Sacramento, Cal. – As IU prepared for its first-round tourney game against Gonzaga, Coach Kelvin Sampson knew he needed a little bit more out of the "four."
The "four" position – or second frontcourt spot alongside D.J. White – has been an albatross for the Hoosiers as of late. While the Hoosier guards have littered the boxscore with 3-pointers and D.J. White has produced in the paint, that fifth position has offered very little to the team's cause.
Take for instance the Hoosiers' 58-54 loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament, when Mike White, Lance Stemler and Xavier Keeling combined for just two rebounds and committed nine fouls in 42 minutes of action.
"We played in the Big Ten Tournament and got nothing out of our four spot – nothing," Sampson said.
But nothing became something Thursday night, courtesy of Lance Stemler.
The 6-8 junior came off the bench to contribute six points, eight rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes against Gonzaga, helping lift the Hoosiers to a 70-57 win and into the NCAA Tournament's second round.
"We played with a high basketball IQ tonight," Sampson said. "And Lance was a big part of that."
Stemler arrived at IU with a reputation for being able to stretch defenses with his perimeter shot, which helped him secure a starting spot for most of the non-conference season. But his once reliable stroke has been woefully off target as of late. A 40 percent 3-point shooter before Big Ten play opened, Stemler shot just 25.5 percent from deep in conference games, including one six-game stretch where he didn't make a single 3-point basket.
His shooting woes didn't change Thursday. He went 0-for-4 from behind the 3-point arc, missing each of his attempts badly. But he did enough other things to not only earn 30 minutes of action, but to draw the praises of his head coach.
"He didn't make a jump shot," Sampson said. "But the key to being a good player at this level is doing things other than making a shot. Lance isn't a great player, so he has to find other ways to help us."
On Thursday, that meant tangling with versatile Gonzaga forward David Pendergraft both inside and out, while also providing a lift for IU on the glass. His eight rebounds was the most he's secured since a nine-rebound effort against IUPUI in December, and it helped the Hoosiers to a 45-30 edge on the boards against the Zags.
He was also a big part of IU's defensive effort against Zag guards Derek Raivio and Jeremy Pargo, keeping that duo from getting free for open looks on ball screens.
"Our defense was really good when he was on the floor," Sampson said. "I thought he did a great job showing on screens, communicating."
It was a big step forward for Stemler, who will need to once again play a big role Saturday against UCLA if the Hoosiers are to be successful. But after Indiana appeared to be playing virtually four on five for the last several weeks, Stemler emerged as a very positive contributor in Sacramento.
"Lance is the guy that can play both ends at that position for us," Sampson said.
IU Gets More from the Four
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