BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana has figured out how to win with style — Archie Miller’s style.
The Hoosiers have embraced the tough, defensive-minded concept of their new coach and it paid off big-time Sunday.
On a day Robert Johnson scored 17 points and Josh Newkirk had 12, the Hoosiers used an 18-0 second-half run and tenacious defense to pull away from Northwestern 66-46 for their third consecutive win.
“We’re not always perfect, we’re not always great but it’s going to be a staple. It’s something we’ve got to have,” Miller said after career win No. 150. “You have to have a grittiness about you, a quickness about you when you play defense and, for the most part, I think we’re starting to look the part.”
It hasn’t been easy getting to this point.
Along the way, there have been losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne, to two ranked teams outside Bloomington and losses at unranked Michigan and Wisconsin.
But now the Hoosiers (11-7, 4-2 Big Ten) have matched their longest winning streak of the season, and they did it by digging deep when their best player, Juwan Morgan, went to the bench for the last 17:46 of the first half after drawing his second foul.
While it wasn’t always pretty, the Hoosiers dug deep and instead of blinking went toe-to-toe against a foe many believed would be headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
“On the defensive end it’s probably been our best game thus far,” Johnson said. “If we can build on that and continue to tighten a couple of things up on the offensive side, we’ll be in a good spot.”
Indiana’s defense has improved steadily this season and the Wildcats (11-8, 2-4) got an up-close look at the progression Sunday.
They shot an abysmal 24 percent from the field in the first half and finished at 26.8 percent, their second-worst mark of the season. They had 17 turnovers, no scorers in double figures and their lowest scoring total all season.
Vic Law and Isiah Brown each scored nine points as the Wildcats lost for the fourth time in six games.
And now they look like a team in trouble.
“I just didn’t see that coming from us offensively,” coach Chris Collins said. “I thought our defense gave us a chance in the first half and we just could never get in any rhythm. Frustrating game.”
The Hoosiers fought through Morgan’s absence in a dreadful first half. Indiana led 13-3 with 9:51 left and neither team hit 20 points until Collin Hartman’s 3-pointer with 2:20 to go.
But when Morgan returned in the second half, it didn’t take the Hoosiers long to pull away.
They quickly extended a 24-19 halftime lead to nine then followed the lead of Morgan and Johnson, who scored the first 12 points in the decisive run to turn a 33-26 contest into a 53-26 blowout.
Northwestern: Yes, the Wildcats have had some bad days this season. But with the midway point of the conference season quickly approaching, Northwestern needs to turn things around fast to save its tourney hopes.
Indiana: The Hoosiers relied on defense and hustle in the first half and played through Morgan in the second half. It made a huge difference. The Hoosiers shot 60.9 percent from the field in the second half, including Morgan’s 4 for 4 shooting performance.
Northwestern: Bryant McIntosh scored seven points and had two assists and three turnovers in what is likely to be his final college game in his home state. … Dererk Pardon had eight points and eight rebounds but took only two shots. … The Wildcats finished 7 of 25 on 3-pointers including their final three baskets of the game.
Indiana: Morgan also finished with five rebounds. … Freshman Justin Smith had eight points and five rebounds and freshman Clifton Moore had two blocks in seven minutes, his most substantial action this season. … Devonte Green had five steals. … The Hoosiers had only four turnovers in the second half.
PLAYING IT TOUGH
McIntosh injured his ankle late in the first half while trying to defend a fast break.
As he tried to stop a drive to the basket, McIntosh tumbled over backward and stayed down briefly before limping to the end of the bench. A few minutes later, he hobbled into the locker room but returned later in the half.
McIntosh started the day ranked No. 9 on Northwestern’s career scoring list (1,569 points) and No. 8 in Big Ten history in assists (653).
Northwestern: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.
Indiana: Visits Michigan State on Friday.