Hoosier MVP…The smallest man on the floor made the biggest difference in Indiana's win. A player who's always been known for doing all the little things that don't show up in the boxscore, Errek Suhr littered the final stat sheet with 10 points, three offensive rebounds, a team-high five assists and 22 minutes of action. While Rod Wilmont's 23 points led the way offensively, Suhr provided the spark – along with a slew of clutch second-half plays - that enabled IU to overcome a sluggish first-half and pull away from Coach Bill Carmody's Wildcats.
During his three years in Bloomington, Suhr has gone from an undersized walk-on who was just happy to be on the IU roster to someone who has become a clutch performer off the bench. While his presence on the floor does usually present some issues defensively because of his size, he was instrumental in enabling IU to combat Northwestern's zone trap as well. He didn't commit a turnover and helped the IU guards get the ball moving to create more open shots in the second half.
Pivotal Stretch…Moments after Marco Killingsworth went to the bench with his fourth foul, Northwestern's Tim Doyle scored on a layup at the 4:17 mark to cut the Indiana lead to three, 58-55. But Indiana responded with a 7-0 run to push the lead to ten with less than two minutes on the clock. Wilmont got things started with a 3-pointer to push the lead to six. After Mohamad Hachad missed a pair of free throws, Suhr found Vaden open for a 12-footer in the lane to push the lead to eight, and Vaden added two more free throws after being fouled on a defensive rebound to extend the lead to 65-55 with 1:40 remaining. Vaden, who had been held scoreless in the first 26 ½ minutes of the game, scored all 11 of his points in the final 13:29 of the game, helping the Hoosiers to an absolute must win.
What I Found Most Concerning… Indiana is now 18 games into the season and at the halfway point of the Big Ten season, and it's obvious that the coaching staff is still having to tinker with the player's roles and the rotation. Lewis Monroe and Earl Calloway – IU's two primary point guards most of the season – played a total of seven minutes against Northwestern, with Calloway sitting on the bench for the entire contest. Sean Kline, who had played double-digit minutes only three times this season, was inserted into the starting lineup and played 16 minutes, his most extensive action since playing 22 minutes against Florida A&M in the season's second game.
By this time of season, most good teams have pretty well settled on who's going to play, how much they're going to play, and what everyone's role is going to be. But IU's recent struggles have sent the coaching staff back to the drawing board in an effort to remedy some of the team's ailments. It worked against Northwestern, but it's troubling to think this team is still trying find combinations that can produce winning results.
What I Found Most Surprising… Indiana had some real problems combating Northwestern's zone press. The Hoosiers jumped out to a 19-9 lead and appeared to be in control, but the IU offense then slowed to a crawl as Northwestern's Mohamad Hachad and Tim Doyle swarmed Indiana's ball handlers as they brought the ball up the floor.
Northwestern's pressure didn't force a tremendous amount of turnovers – Indiana committed only 12 in the contest – but Indiana had a great deal of problems late in the first half trying to get quality shots before the shot clock wound down. Northwestern's zone press enabled it to go on a 13-3 run that wiped out that Hoosier lead over a five minute time span. During that stretch IU had three turnovers and six of its eight field goal attempts were 3-point attempts.
The Hoosiers' ball movement was much better in the second half, which allowed them to shoot 63.6 percent from the floor in the game's final 20 minutes to pull away. But Indiana never appeared completely comfortable with how to attack the Wildcat defense. Expect to see future foes try to do a little bit of the same and see if their better athletes can create even more havoc for IU's ball handlers.
What I Found Most Impressive…The sort of effort IU got out of Suhr and Wilmont, who played critical roles in the Hoosiers' win. Considering the depth of talent that Indiana had on its roster when the 2005-06 season started, there was a time early in the season where it appeared both players' contributions might be minimal. But with Marco Killingsworth limited to single digits for just the second time this season and Robert Vaden held in check until late, Mike Davis' team couldn't have knocked off the Wildcats without the play of this pair of junior guards.
While it's huge that Indiana can get these sort of efforts from the pair, it continues to raise questions about Indiana's chances to be a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship. For everything that Suhr has given the team, he remains a defensive liability because of his size, and many teams have tried to attack him one-on-one when he's on the floor. Suhr was able to avoid those kind of problems against Northwestern, though, because Wildcat guard Craig Moore is strictly a 3-point shooter. But expecting Suhr to play 20+ minutes and be matched up against the likes of Dee Brown or Daniel Horton or Kammron Taylor is asking a lot.
If Indiana expects to go on the road and beat a Michigan or a Wisconsin or an Illinois – and Indiana will have to win at least one of those games if it hopes to win the Big Ten title – it needs to get better play out of Lewis Monroe and/or Marshall Strickland at the point guard spot.
Errek Suhr on whether his play rubbed off on his teammates:
"I'd like to think as a team we always play as hard as possible, and I think tonight we really came together. Against a team like that, an offense like that, it's a tough game to win because they slow down with their defense, and their backcuts on offense."
Suhr on the lineup changes:
"There's not much difference. A little here and there. We're still running the same stuff, we still have the same rules, principles on defense. It's a little different look to try to mix things up."
Suhr on whether IU was tight early:
"Against a team like Northwestern, it's just different. You have to be on your toes for backcuts, and you always have to have your teammates' back for backcuts. It's a different pace. At the beginning the pace was different and it took a little while to get used to it."
IU Coach Mike Davis on being 5-3 in the Big Ten:
"The halfway point, to be 5-3, that's pretty good…If we're going to have a chance to compete at all for a top three spot, we have to win some road games."
Davis on the energy from the crowd and from Suhr:
"I really liked the crowd tonight. They could have been down on us, but they came out and had energy. Suhr gave them something to cheer for, too."
Random Thoughts…Often criticized for its struggles on the boards, Indiana out-rebounded Northwestern 35-22…after putting together its four worst shooting games of the year the last four times out, Indiana shot 51 percent against the Wildcats, marking the 10th time this season IU has shot at least 50 percent from the floor. Indiana is 9-1 in those contests, with the 87-73 loss at Michigan State being the lone exception…Indiana has now won 34 straight against Northwestern in Bloomington. The Wildcats have never won a game in Assembly Hall…Indiana has now won 13 straight Big Ten games at home, with the last loss being a setback to Wisconsin in the home finale to the 2003-04 regular season. That 13-0 mark, though, is offset by the team's 2-9 record on the road during that same time span…Rod Wilmont's career-high 23-point effort eclipsed his previous career-high of 20, which also came against Northwestern on March, 5, 2005.
Upon Further Review…Northwestern
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