Indiana's leaders can carry the team when needed

Unlike the past couple of years when the Hoosiers ran their offense through one player, this year they have several different options. Bracey Wright, Tom Coverdale, and Jeff Newton can all carry the load for Indiana. Coverdale and Newton are senior leaders who have the experience to know when they need to step it up. While Wright is only a freshman, he proved he knows when to take over a game last Tuesday against Ball State.

Indiana was flirting with a third consecutive loss at Ball State when Bracey Wright took his game to another level. The Cardinals matched the Hoosiers shot for shot as they played with confidence in front of a packed Worthen Arena. Bracey Wright kept IU in the game by penetrating to the basket, creating scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He also made several trips to the free throw line, giving Indiana needed points to keep the crowd under control. Still, IU couldn't shake Ball State until Wright decided to take complete control of the game.

The Hoosiers needed a basket to break a three-minute scoreless drought with less than nine minutes remaining in the second half. Worthen Arena was as loud as it had been all game and the Hoosiers looked unsure of themselves. They did not have the swagger they displayed the first eight games of the season—a swagger absent since Mike Davis' explosion at the end of the Kentucky game.

Leading 52-49, Wright pulled up from three feet behind the line and drained a three-pointer with a defender in his face. The following possession, Wright used his quickness to draw a foul and get to the line. IU began to build a lead, which was extended by two more Wright three-pointers in the next minute and a half. Wright hit three-pointers several feet behind the line, with defenders draped all over him. After hitting these shots, Wright used his quickness to get to the basket creating shots for teammates. With just over two minutes remaining, Ball State trailed 71-58 and never seriously challenged Indiana the rest of the game. The Cardinals knew they had no answer for Wright.

Other Hoosier opponents looked equally dumbfounded while trying to stop an IU clutch player, but that player has not always been Bracey Wright.

Indiana struggled all game against Maryland. The game meant a chance for revenge for the Hoosiers who were still feeling the pain of last season's loss to Maryland in the NCAA championship. Indiana's emotion worked against them initially as they could not buy a basket to start the game. Maryland's big men scored at will inside and held Indiana to 29.9 percent shooting for the game. The Terrapins controlled the game, but they could not stop Tom Coverdale.

Repeatedly Coverdale nailed three-pointers after curling around screens at the top of the key. Coverdale went 5-for-10 from three-point range and 9-for-10 from the free throw line. He led the Hoosiers with 30 points but equally important was his role as Indiana's emotional leader. Coverdale waved his arms in the air after making key shots, getting the crowd involved in the game and motivating his teammates. Despite combined shooting of 11-for-41 out of Newton and Wright, Indiana beat a good Maryland team because the Hoosiers have several options. Unlike past years when Indiana's offense revolved around one player (see A.J. Guyton, Kirk Haston, Jared Jeffries), the Hoosiers do not depend on one player for offensive production. They have several options and these options prevent IU from failing after a bad game by one key player.

Jeff Newton plays as consistently as anyone on the Indiana squad, but he also has the ability to explode if needed. IU entered the annual battle against Kentucky with great energy but struggled to contain Kentucky's quick guards. After scoring only two points in the first half, Newton produced 22 points in the second half. Kentucky could not stop him as he continually drove past Kentucky defenders to get to the basket. Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith was furious at the inability of his big men to stop Newton. Although IU did not win the game, Newton proved that he also could carry the team when he is needed. Wright scored a quiet 18 points and was the only other IU player in double figures for Indiana. In the second half the Hoosiers knew they needed to get Newton the ball. IU ran the offense through Newton and Kentucky was helpless to stop him. Indiana did not win the game, but once again a key player for IU stepped up in a big game when he was needed.

Indiana proved it could win while riding the back of one of their key players. The ability of Wright, Coverdale and Newton to carry the load when the rest of the team is a step slow gives Indiana the chance to win every game they play. Also, the Hoosiers are tough to defend against because you cannot focus on one player to stop. IU has solid role players who feed off of their three leaders, making them a difficult team to defend.

If Indiana can win games with only one key player playing well, imagine the possibilities when "the Big 3" are firing on all cylinders. That thought has to bring a smile to Mike Davis' face.

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