When Indiana walk-on point guard Harrison Niego dove over the IPFW bench for a loose ball last Wednesday, he showcased the kind of effort Indiana assistant coach Rob Judson wanted to see out of his players.
That kind of effort is exactly what the Hoosiers need to be showing heading into Saturday's 6:30 p.m. home game against McNeese State, the Hoosiers' third-to-last game before Big Ten play begins.
"We're looking forward to seeing other players step up and do that as well against McNeese," Judson said.
In the process of diving for the loose ball, Niego broke the chair on IPFW's bench. In addition to one broken chair, he also finished with four rebounds, one assist and no turnovers despite the Hoosiers committing 17 as a team.
The effort Niego put together in 12 minutes, with sophomore guards Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. in foul trouble, will be necessary for the Hoosiers to contain one of the top point guards in the Southland Conference in McNeese State's Jamaya Burr.
Burr leads the Cowboys in both scoring and assists at 13.9 points per game and 2.4 assists per game. He's done the most damage beyond the perimeter, shooting 8-for-12 from 3-point range over his last two games. He poured in a career-high 23 points on 5-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc in an early-season 70-67 Cowboys home loss to Texas State.
"They have a very explosive point guard (in) Burr," Judson said.
Judson also pointed out that Burr has been shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range. At 41.7 percent from that range, Burr ranks ninth in the Southland Conference.
Since the Duke game, Indiana has held its opponents to 30.8 percent shooting from the perimeter. Overall, Hoosier opponents have managed to shoot just 33 percent from the field in that same time span.
The defensive mindset has changed and was talked about at length before Saturday's game. Indiana junior forward Collin Hartman attributed the change to having a more aggressive mentality on defense, something constantly brought up by Indiana associate head coach Tim Buckley.
"One thing that Coach Buckley always talks about is having the demeanor on defense, letting teams know they're not going to score on you," Indiana junior forward Collin Hartman said. "Just by the way you carry yourself on defense, and the stance you're in, and the mentality of saying 'this guy's not scoring on me,' and just a more of an aggressive mindset on defense. Coach Buck, he always stresses the demeanor."
Besides the Hoosiers' defensive mindset, among the other important mental aspects of Saturday's game is the team recognizing what it still needs to work on before Big Ten play begins.
Indiana faces McNeese State Saturday, Notre Dame Dec. 19, then Kennesaw State Dec. 22 before beginning conference play at Rutgers Dec. 30.
Hartman and Michigan grad transfer forward Max Bielfeldt are two of the most experienced Hoosiers on the roster when it comes to playing in the Big Ten. Bielfeldt said the team has started to take the right steps with rebounding, playing team defense and getting out and running.
With those three aspects of the game being the biggest areas of focus, Indiana's matchup with McNeese State serves as a good starting point.
"I think we've started to find that identity as us being that kind of team, as far as our defense and keeping our offensive production rate pretty high," Bielfeldt said. "I think just getting better at that and then using these couple of games to find out if there's anything else we need to work on additionally to lock in for the Big Ten season."