Bloomington, Ind. – Indiana head coach Mike Davis delivered a message to Earl Calloway, and if Saturday's performance against UConn is any indication, it was heard loud and clear.
After Davis decided to not play the junior point guard in Indiana's win over Northwestern and moving him from the starting practice squad, Calloway responded in a big way in Indiana's 88-80 loss to the No. 1 Connecticut Huskies.
Calloway came off the bench with Indiana (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten) trailing the Huskies (20-1, 7-1 Big East) by 16 and instantly made his presence felt in the game. Calloway led the Hoosiers on an 11-2 run and helped cut the UCONN lead to seven with eight minutes to go in the game – the smallest UCONN lead since the first minute of the second half.
"Earl gave the team a big spark," said sophomore Robert Vaden. "He penetrated, pushed the ball up the court, got into the lane and got the team some open shots."
After being kept out of the game just three nights ago, Calloway had one of his best games in his short Indiana career in just 11 minutes of playing time. Calloway had a career-high five rebounds to go along with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and three assists. He was one point off his career high in scoring, which he had in Indiana's loss to Indiana State.
Calloway's spark came just at the right time for the Hoosiers. With Josh Boone hitting a free throw to cap off an old fashioned three-point play, Indiana was down 16 with what appeared to be nothing left in the tank and UCONN scoring almost at will.
"I think we fought back well," said senior Marshall Strickland. "We had that stretch where we really pressured them and they turned the ball over. We pushed the tempo."
Pushing the tempo was something IU Coach Mike Davis desperately wanted. He said afterwards that Indiana couldn't afford to let UConn set up its halfcourt defense, and instead needed to try to get into its offense quickly.
Calloway proved to be the best way to do just that.
"We talked in the first half of pushing the ball," said Davis. "I thought we had walked the ball up, and against that team you have to get it up, get into your offense and make plays. I thought earl had the speed to match their guys. If he can play like that, takes us to another level."
After UConn had opened a seemingly-comfortable lead, the Calloway-led Hoosiers quickly countered with the sort of up-tempo style Davis was looking for.
"We just pushed the ball because they weren't getting back," said Calloway. "We got some easy baskets out of it. It was a big emphasis for us to push it up because their big men weren't running back."
The first JUCO recruit to play for Mike Davis, Calloway missed just his second game of the year when Davis kept him on the bench against Northwestern. Calloway also sat out Indiana's second game of the season against Florida A&M.
Calloway seemed to be earning himself quality minutes after getting the start for the Hoosiers on the road at Iowa and playing 26 minutes, but he saw just two minutes of against on the road at Minnesota before sitting out the Northwestern game.
"You need to come everyday and just keep working hard," said Calloway. "That was the coach's decision and whenever he calls on me I need to come in and contribute to the team. I had nothing to prove. I just wanted to come out and help the team and play hard."
Playing hard and making good decisions is something that Davis and his staff have been looking for from Calloway all season, and the Hoosier head coach was glad to see it Saturday.
"I've been trying to push buttons with him all year," said Davis. "He just decided to play. Today he came out and played. If he can give us that, we're a pretty good team. He has the ability. It showed today."
A strong contribution from Calloway could prove vital for the Hoosiers, who have eight games to go in the Big Ten season. With Lewis Monroe being taken out of the game by opposing defenses, Calloway's speed may be the spark the Hoosiers need down the stretch.
"We played well today but we had a couple of lapses," said Calloway. "It's a building block that we can learn from and then more on. There are eight more conference games to win. We need to go out and play hard. As a team, we all learned something from this game and things we need to work on. We need to keep trying to get better and keep winning. It showed the character of this team that we have no quit in us."
Calloway Rises To The Challenge
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