BLOOMINGTON — For the second game in a row, Justin Smith struggled with his consistency for Indiana Saturday against Northwestern.
But in the final four minutes, with starter Juwan Morgan on the bench with an injury, Smith stepped up. He had a big layup after IU broke the press and hit a critical free throw as IU held on to beat Northwestern 68-66 in the Big Ten opener.
“He stepped up in the last four minutes when we needed him,’’ IU coach Archie Miller said. “He made a couple of big free throws and had a couple of good drives where he was able to get to the line.’’
But Miller admitted Smith has not been completely himself of late.
“He's not playing as confident as he once was,’’ Miller said. “We've got to get him trimmed back down in terms of taking care of the ball. I think if he takes care of the ball he's going to be fine. He's a driver. He's obviously over the rim. The more we can get him in transition, the better.’’
The other thing that has hampered Smith lately has been fouls.
“The other thing, obviously is he had a couple of quick fouls in the first half,’’ Miller said. “That kind of removed him from that.’’
Smith had eight points against Northwestern in 18 minutes of action. But he only had one rebound, no assists and no steals.
Smith said he has been taking things day-by-day. But he said IU’s struggles are more team struggles than individual ones.
“We're working offensively and defensively to try to shore things up,’’ Smith said. “Obviously turnovers are an issue right now, and we're kind of working just being more in control and making better decisions when we have the ball and taking our time because I feel like recently we kind of rushed offensively. So just trying to find the groove and stay within that for the rest of the time.’’
Miller on Trayce Jackson-Davis
Friday afternoon, Indiana picked up a five-star commitment when it was confirmed that Trayce Jackson-Davis has signed with the Hoosiers.
Saturday, following the win over Northwestern, Miller talked about the significance of landing the 6-foot-9 forward from Center Grove High School.
“He was one of the very first couple young kids in the state that we targeted just in terms of saying that we want to have a good chance of building a rapport and relationship,’’ Miller said. “We worked tirelessly, my staff did, with them. I have a great relationship with the family and Trayce. And to be able to get that caliber of player, obviously, from the state is huge.’’
It was Miller’s fifth in-state commit in two seasons at IU.
“Keeping guys here, playing here, is something that hopefully makes our job easy one day where you don't have to work very hard — I don't want to say work very hard — but you don't have to really stretch yourself when there's a great player,’’ Miller said. “He's got a lot of upside to him. Size. Athleticism. Length. He has great hands. But more so than anything, I think it continues to hopefully build confidence that the best want to come here. And that's what we’ve strived to do from day one. And we're going to continue to strive for that as we continue to move forward because that's what makes the most sense.’’
Miller pleased with first Big Ten victory
Considering all things, including losing Juwan Morgan to an injury late in the game, Miller was very pleased with his team's effort against Northwestern.
“For our guys to find a way to win a game in December, a conference game after fighting that hard, is a good thing, especially coming off a loss on Tuesday,’’ Miller said. “ A bounce-back is what you need to sort of continue and gain confidence and keep working. That's what we're going to do.
“We go to Penn State on Tuesday and that's going to be very, very difficult. And I just can't imagine playing in this league in January and February. I just don't see a team that's not very good. So for us, we've got one in the bag and we're happy about it, and we're going to try to get recovered and prepared the best we can and go on the road on Tuesday.’’