SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – In what very well could have been his last game as Indiana's head coach, Mike Davis did something that probably did not seem like such a good idea six weeks ago.
With his Hoosiers down by 10 with less than 10 minutes to go against San Diego State, Davis put both of his point guards on the floor – just a month and a half after both were seemingly out of his good graces. Earl Calloway responded with a career-high 18 points, three assists and six steals while Lewis Monroe added six points and tough defense on Aztec big men in the paint.
That's the same duo that Davis said was crippling the team offensively after back-to-back road losses at Iowa and Minnesota, a pair whose ineffectiveness prompted Davis to make wholesale lineup and rotation changes six weeks ago. But in Thursday's 87-83 win over San Diego State, both attacked the Aztec guards off the dribble and played a huge role in IU's first NCAA tourney win since 2003.
"The play of Earl and Lewis tonight was fantastic," said Davis. "Earl's speed was second to none. He looked faster tonight than he's ever looked – and I thought he was fast before. Lewis Monroe came in and made some great plays for us."
Monroe played his most minutes in almost a month with 19 – one more than he had played in the last five games combined. Calloway has taken his share of minutes since finding the right pace to lead the Hoosiers. He has averaged almost 25 minutes since leading the Hoosiers on a late game rally against Connecticut in early February – one game after Davis kept him out of the lineup for lack of production.
"It took us time to get adjusted to what Coach Davis wanted," said Calloway. "But now we're able to play our game. At the beginning of the year I was pushing it too fast and making bad plays. I played sporadic, out of control at times. Now I've been able to get into the lane and get to the hoop. If I don't have a shot, it's because I took someone else's man and I need to find that person for an open look."
Davis was disgruntled with his point guards after both became ineffective as Indiana hit the Big Ten season. Neither seemed to be a threat offensively, allowing teams to devote their defensive attention to the other players on the floor.
With the lack of scoring from the point guard position, Davis went back to senior Marshall Strickland. Monroe, meanwhile, had to adjust to playing the point at some times and then defending forwards at others.
"We told him all season to hang in there," said associate head coach Kerry Rupp. "Everyone is going to get an opportunity to help this team. You can't drop your head. You have to wait for your chance and your opportunity.
"Lewis brings a lot of things to the table. He has the toughness to defend not only a point, but tonight we had him matched up with their four or five player in the paint. He's tough enough to do that for us. We're at the point of the season where everybody has to find a way to bring something to the table and play to your strengths. That's what he did for us today. He made the plays he's capable of making."
The biggest improvement of the season is the play of Calloway. Early in the year it seemed he had more speed than he knew what to do with, but Calloway has learned to better utilize that quickness. Being able to change speeds has allowed Calloway to penetrate and either finish or find the open man and has allowed Indiana to control the tempo when needed.
"Earl has learned to harness that speed," said Rupp. "He doesn't just have one speed now, he's been able incorporate a change of speed. Now he's able to play slow to fast, fast to slow. He'll dribble down slow and set his guy up, then boom, pull the trigger and get right around him. The greatest point guards in the game are able to incorporate that change of pace.
"He's getting more confident each time on the court and he's working hard in practice, too. He comes every day with the attitude ‘How can I get better today?' We're working and addressing those things."
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