BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Juwan Morgan likes doing Indiana’s dirty work.
Now the junior forward is cleaning up in his new role.
Morgan scored a career-high 28 points Wednesday, finished with eight rebounds and helped the Hoosiers finally pull away late for an 87-70 victory over Arkansas State.
“I felt if the younger guys saw that, oh, one of the leaders of the team is getting on the floor, getting after us in practice, then they’d say ‘why shouldn’t we do it?'” Morgan said.
The message is making an impact.
Indiana (3-2) has won two in a row for the first time under new coach Archie Miller— largely because of Morgan’s ability to dig in, play hard and make all the little plays.
Just three nights after posting the second double-double of his college career, Morgan nearly did it again with even more impressive numbers. He went 9 of 11 from the field, made all 10 of his free-throw attempts and had two assists and two blocks.
But numbers only tell part of the story.
After missing five games as a freshman and two as a sophomore because of injuries and taking a backseat to higher-scoring teammates who had their eyes on the NBA, Morgan has found his voice in a new role that Miller appreciates.
“He’s brought a lot of energy to the table, he’s a versatile defender for us,” Miller said. “I think just, in general, his physicality on the glass and in the paint is much different than it was earlier in the season.”
Deven Simms scored 21 points and Tristen Walley added 12 to lead Arkansas State (2-3), which fought its way back from a 47-33 halftime deficit to get within 59-56 with 9:43 to go.
The Hoosiers responded with a 10-2 spurt that extended their lead to 73-62, and they finally closed it out with an 11-3 run that gave Indiana an 87-67 cushion with 1:19 to go.
“I thought our guys came out in the second half and were pretty resilient for the first 14 minutes,” Red Wolves coach Mike Balado said. “But they made some shots, we missed some defensive assignments and all of a sudden it goes from a four, six point lead to 12 and it’s hard to come back like that on the road.”
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves have spent the first month of the season alternating wins and losses, and they stayed true to the pattern Wednesday. But in his first season, Balado has this program on the right track. More time together should only help Arkansas State get better.
Indiana: While the Hoosiers still aren’t clicking on all cylinders, they are improving. The defense has shown steady growth since a season-opening loss to Indiana State, and the offense is getting leadership from Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan. There’s still a long way to go.
Arkansas State: Walley led the team with six rebounds on a night the Red Wolves were outrebounded 43-23. Arkansas State was 7 of 19 from 3-point range and shot just 40.5 percent overall in the second half. Ty Cockfield and Rashad Lindsey each had four assists. The Red Wolves’ last win over a Big Ten opponent came at Iowa on Dec. 6, 1985.
Indiana: Morgan has made 19 of 20 free throws in the last two games, and the Hoosiers were 16 of 21 from the free-throw line Wednesday. Freddie McSwain Jr. had 10 rebounds and six points in 12 minutes. Six players had at least two assists and four players scored in double figures. Indiana continues to struggle on 3s, going just 5 of 18.
THEY SAID IT
Arkansas State: “I don’t know if we’ll see somebody as big as Freddie McSwain and De’Ron Davis in our league,” Balado said. “I think what helps us is the environment on the road. These guys need to learn how to win on the road.”
Indiana: “Coming from my high school here, I knew right away I wasn’t going to be the man,” Morgan said. “I just knew I was going to be in the background, but that’s just fine with me. If I can get us extra possessions and everybody else shines, as long as the team wins, I’m fine with that.”
Arkansas State: Visits South Florida on Friday in its fourth and final game of the Hoosier Tip-Off Classic.
Indiana: Hosts Eastern Michigan of the Mid-American Conference on Friday — the Hoosiers final tuneup before next week’s showdown with No. 1 Duke.