For most of this season, Noah Vonleh and Yogi Ferrell have done the majority of the scoring for the Indiana Hoosiers. With that said, it should have been a bad sign when the two combined for only one field goal in the first half of Sunday's game against Illinois.
But Sunday was different, as contributions came from all over the place. Thanks to a full team effort and certainly a stingy defense, IU actually went into the locker room with a 26-24 lead, allowing Ferrell to finally take control of the game in the second half.
Stanford Robinson had arguably his best game of the Big Ten season with 10 points and five rebounds, while Troy Williams chipped in eight points and Austin Etherington scored a season-high seven in the 56-46 win. In fact, even Jeff Howard got in the act, scoring a basket during his 14 minutes of play.
It was a good thing all that happened, as Ferrell was quiet in the first half and Vonleh was held to just four points, although the latter did bring down 14 rebounds.
This is the kind of total team effort the Hoosiers have needed all year. There have been too many occasions in which Indiana has had two go-to players on the court and nothing more.
As good as Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo were, they did not do all the scoring for Indiana by any means. In fact, double-teaming either player often led to a wide-open three-point shot by Jordan Hulls or Christian Watford.
Similarly, if Robinson, Etherington and Will Sheehey can get open looks for good shots, it will take plenty of pressure off Vonleh and Ferrell, allowing more scoring opportunities for IU and putting more pressure on opposing defenses.
Spreading the ball around is not the only way to take pressure off Vonleh and Ferrell. Playing tough, stingy defense will also take weight off their shoulders.
By no means was it a spectacular offensive performance, as Indiana only scored 56 points; however, thanks to a great effort on defense, it was enough to win.
As we learned in the nonconference season, this team can utilize its athleticism down low to score a lot of points. Much like last year’s team, this year’s Hoosiers can use their athleticism to set good screens and set up good shots, especially when putting Vonleh or Williams down low.
There are still questions to be asked about the team’s overall concentration and confidence, though. Sloppy passes remain a contagious issue, and on many drives to the basket, the Hoosiers seem unsure of themselves and what plays they are running.
We must remember that this is still a very young team and, quite frankly, a team still getting used to playing with each other. This happens anytime a team loses almost all of its starting lineup to graduation or the NBA draft, but teams that adapt quickly are rewarded.
With that said, the Hoosiers must continue to get used to plays that do not involve Ferrell or Vonleh. If they do, they will feel much more comfortable when giving the ball to Sheehey or Howard, and spreading the ball around will lead to more points.
If Indiana wishes to turn its season around and reach the NCAA tournament, both confidence and spreading the ball around will be critical. IU must also continue to employ the same defensive pressure it used against the Fighting Illini.
Every game now feels like the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers must continue to do these things to play in March—especially to be a dangerous team.