With a pair of 20-plus point victories in the bag, Indiana gets a chance to make a statement Saturday.
A statement, you say? Doesn't a 22-point spanking of the Spartans and a 27-point battering of the Boilermakers in the last six days say something about Kelvin Sampson's team?
Sure it does. The Hoosiers' recent wrecking-ball performances has proven this is a formidable foe, and a team that very teams will beat…in Bloomington. But it's a win Saturday at Penn State that Indiana needs to establish itself as a player in the Big Ten Conference chase.
After all, like seven other Big Ten teams this season, the Hoosiers haven't won a true road game yet. They've been close, losing at Duke by three, Kentucky by four, and Ohio State by seven. Those near misses drew praise from Purdue Coach Matt Painter Wednesday for the way IU has gone into tough venues and competed, but late-game miscues cost the Hoosiers each time.
"It's always the last four minutes that we have to do a better job of executing, getting our ‘D' up to another level," said senior Rod Wilmont. "That's what each game on the road has come down to."
That could very well be the case again Saturday against a Penn State team that's 10-2 at the Bryce-Jordan Center this season.
This isn't the same sort of Penn State team that has served as little more than an off-season distraction while Nittany Lion fans waited for the start of spring football. Coach Ed DeChellis' team is off to a 10-5 start and has one of the league's best frontcourt tandems in Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley. Claxton, who missed the season's first four games with a broken hand, is averaging 17.0 points and 8.8 rebounds, while Cornley adds 13.6 points a 7.5 rebounds.
Add in guard Danny Morrissey – last week's Big Ten Player of the Week who averages 12.3 points and shooting 46 percent from 3-point range – and Penn State is no pushover.
But truth be told, this remains a game Indiana should win, and needs to win if it wants to be something other than an afterthought in the Big Ten title chase. No disrespect to the Nittany Lions, but Penn State isn't Ohio State, and the Bryce Jordan Center isn't Rupp Arena.
"These teams we're playing, we haven't played a team on the road that I think we're better than," IU Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "We're not better than Kentucky. I don't think we're better than Duke. I don't think we're better than Ohio State.
"Every game we've played on the road, I think those teams playing at home probably should have won those games."
They did, despite each getting a scare from the Hoosiers. While those setbacks were painful ones, they should have provided some valuable lessons Indiana can take into the rest of its conference road trips, starting with Saturday's game at Penn State.
"We'll keep trying," D.J. White said. "We know on the road, there's no problem with us being in the game. We have gone into some of the toughest places to play in the country and were in it until the last minute of the game. We just have to put things together in the last minute."
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