BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana unveiled some big changes to its starting lineup for Wednesday's Northwestern game after back-to-back losses last week, but it turned out that all Coach Mike Davis' team needed was a little heart.
That came courtesy 5'8" Hoosier guard Errek Suhr, whose 10 points, five assists and three offensive rebounds provided a huge lift, helping Indiana to a much-needed 72-63 win over Northwestern at Assembly Hall. Rod Wilmont added a career-high 23 points to the cause, as Indiana (13-5/5-3) won its 34th straight over Northwestern (10-9/3-5) in Bloomington.
It wasn't just Suhr's totals, but his timing that was critical as well. Suhr pulled down a couple of big second-half offensive rebounds that resulted in 3-point baskets, helping IU open a double-digit lead midway through the second half. As Northwestern tried to chip away at the IU margin, Suhr responded with a couple of critical assists, a big 3-pointer, a pair of free throws, and a diving save of a would-be turnover. He also committed zero turnovers against a Northwestern's zone trap that seemed to befuddle IU late in the first half and early on in the second.
The one-time walk-on from Bloomington (Ind.) North High School wound up playing 22 minutes against the Wildcats, including 15 in the second half.
"When I got in the game, I knew I had to play as hard as I could and try to give the team a lift if I could," said Suhr. "The ball kind of seemed to bounce my way tonight. I was just going to the spots that I'm supposed to, and I was lucky because it was bouncing my way."
Whether it was good fortune or better effort, Suhr's play provided a critical lift to a team that was clearing reeling from back-to-back, double-digit Big Ten losses on the road. Those setbacks had not only dropped the Hoosiers to fifth in the conference and 21st in the national rankings, but they had also dealt a significant blow to the team's confidence as well.
While Wednesday's win doesn't immediately elevate the Hoosiers back into Big Ten favorite status, it does enable them to make the conference turn at 5-3 and within a game of the league lead as it prepares for a matchup with No. 1 UConn Saturday in Assembly Hall.
"This was pretty huge," said Suhr. "You can't lose at home, let along after losing two straight. I'm glad we got the win, I know everyone is glad we got it, and now we can concentrate on (UConn)."
Suhr's contributions off the bench came in the place of those usually provided by Wilmont. After being the Hoosiers sixth-man for most of the season, IU Coach Mike Davis inserted Wilmont into the starting lineup in place of A.J. Ratliff in an effort to give the team a spark. It was one of a trio of changes Davis made to the lineup, along with starting Sean Kline at power forward and moving Marshall Strickland to the point guard spot and sitting senior Lewis Monroe.
In the case of Wilmont, it was a move that couldn't have worked any better. Wilmont was 8-of-13 from the floor, including 5-of-10 from behind the 3-point arc. He scored 15 of his points in the second half, helping Indiana pull away from the Wildcats.
"I got a lot of good looks, open looks," said Wilmont. "My teammates looked for me tonight, and I knocked down most of them."
The contributions of Wilmont and Suhr were especially important because Indiana didn't get the usual production out of its two leading scorers on the season, Marco Killingsworth and Robert Vaden. Killingsworth had a game-high 12 rebounds, but finished with just nine points before fouling out late. Vaden, meanwhile, went scoreless for the game's first 26:29 before scoring all 11 of his points in the final 12 ½ minutes.
"Other guys have to step up every night," said Wilmont. "Tonight, Suhr hit a couple of big shots for us. You don't always know who is going to step up."
Davis might not always know who is going to step up on a night-in, night-out basis, but the Hoosier coach has had a change of heart about who is going to put on the floor every night.
"We played the guys we thought would give us a chance to win," said Davis.
On this night, that included big efforts from Suhr and Wilmont, 16 solid minutes from Kline, and four important points from Ben Allen in the second half. Seemingly falling out of favor were point guards Lewis Monroe – who played all seven of his minutes in the first half - and Earl Calloway – who didn't see any action.
"I'm past that stage of trying to milk guys and build their confidence," said Davis. "They have to concentrate on what's important, and that's coming out and playing like we're trying to win a championship."
Vedran Vukusic was one of three Wildcats in double figures, leading Northwestern with 18 points.
Vukusic 7-17 1-2 18, Scott 1-1 0-0 2, Hachad 5-9 4-10 14, Moore 4-10 0-0 11, Williams 2-4 2-2 6, Doyle 3-6 0-0 7, Jenkins 1-1 0-0 2, Cote 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 24-49 7-14 63.
Killingsworth 4-8 1-4 9, Kline 1-1 0-0 2, Wilmont 8-13 2-2 23, Strickland 3-7 0-0 7, Vaden 3-8 4-4 11, Suhr 3-5 2-2 10, Ratliff 2-4 1-2 6, Allen 1-1 2-3 4, Monroe 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 25-49 12-17 72.
Halftime Score: Indiana 27, Northwestern 24. 3-Pointers: Indiana 10-26 (Killingsworth 0-2, Wilmont 5-10, Strickland 1-4, Vaden 1-5, Surh 2-3, Ratliff 1-2), Northwestern 8-24 (Vukusic 3-10, Hachad 0-2, Moore 3-9, Williams 0-1, Doyle 1-1, Cote 1-1). Rebounds: Indiana 35 (Killingsworth 12), Northwestern 22 (Hachad 5). Assists: Indiana 13 (Vaden 5, Suhr 5), Northwestern 15 (Doyle 5). Turnovers: Indiana 12 (Vaden 5), Northwestern 10 (Vukusic 4). Blocks: Indiana 2 (Wilmont, Ratliff), Northwestern 2 (Vukusic, Scott). Attendance: 17,094. Officials: Rick Hartzell, Joe DeMayo, Gene Crawford.
Suhr, Wilmont Come To The Rescue
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