BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan have finally figured out what Indiana needs most – leadership.
The two veterans are happy to fill that role.
Johnson got the offense jump-started by scoring 21 points and Morgan did the dirty work on defense to help the Hoosiers overcome a rugged start Sunday and pull away from South Florida 70-53.
“I thought today, clearly for the longest period of time, we showed some toughness. We played hard,” coach Archie Miller said. “We’re getting there. They’re starting to understand it will be this way.”
It’s a strikingly different tone from the same man who called his team “soft” following a season-opening loss eight days earlier.
Since then, though, Johnson, a senior, and Morgan, a junior, have started to speak up and show their less experienced teammates what Miller means. The result: Indiana (2-2) has won two of its last three, and its second-half performance Sunday went almost perfectly according to the script.
The Hoosiers committed three turnovers in the final 20 minutes after giving it away nine in the first 20.
The defense limited South Florida to 19 points on 6 of 25 shooting after trailing 34-33 at the half.
Meanwhile Johnson and Morgan helped get the offense get in sync. Johnson used some nifty moves to lead the way, and Morgan scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half and finished with 10 rebounds, seven on the offensive end.
“When you’re the guy you count on the most, you expect him to make plays and you expect him to be aggressive. Whether he’s missing or not, we need Rob to be that guy,” Miller said. “I thought Juwan Morgan basically jump-started the team in the second half. He played extremely hard.”
The difference was dramatic.
After Morgan’s free throws with 13:10 left tied the score at 43 and his subsequent layup gave Indiana the lead 12:18 to go, the Hoosiers never trailed again. Instead, they went on a 9-1 run to take a 54-44 lead and closed it out with a 9-4 run that extended the margin to 14.
South Florida (2-2) was led by Peyton Banks, who had 15 of his 18 points in the first half and Malik Martin with 11.
“I think we ran out of gas a little bit, they’re a little deeper than we are,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Their two veterans in Morgan and Johnson were outstanding tonight and they’re going to need that. You take a look around and that’s what great programs have.”
South Florida: Gregory was seeking his first big win since joining the Bulls in March. He’ll have to wait a little longer. But with 10 new players on the roster, the Bulls are off to a solid start.
Indiana: The Hoosiers look like they’re rounding into form. They have played better defensively and have cut the number of 3-pointers allowed in three consecutive games.
Sunday’s game pitted two coaches with a rather unique connection – they were the previous two coaches at the University of Dayton.
The Flyers hired Gregory in 2003 and he went 172-94 while making two NCAA Tournament appearances and earning three NIT bids before leaving for Georgia Tech after the 2010-11 season.
His replacement was Miller, who went 139-63 at Dayton and took the Flyers to four straight NCAA Tourneys before taking the Hoosiers’ job in March.
“I highly regard Archie as a great coach. He did a great job at Dayton,” Gregory said. “I followed them every game. I hoped they won every game because that’s the way I was taught in this profession.”
Miller picked up his first technical foul since joining the Hoosiers late in the first half in unusual fashion.
Upset about the Hoosiers failing to grab a rebound, Miller grabbed a towel, whipped it around and it landed on the court, forcing a stoppage of play. Miller walked over picked it up and walked directly back to the bench without complaint.
“If I could have kept my play card and my towel off the floor, it probably would have helped the cause,” Miller said.
South Florida: The Bulls were 5 of 17 on 3-pointers and finished with 17 turnovers. Starting center Nikola Scekic did not score and had only two rebounds in 16 minutes because of foul trouble.
Indiana: Was 5 of 17 on 3s. De’Ron Davis had 12 points and five rebounds. Starting point guard Josh Newkirk played only 10 minutes because he’s been having trouble with his legs, Miller said.
South Florida: Returns home to face Howard on Wednesday.
Indiana: Hosts Arkansas State on Wednesday in the third game of the Hoosier Tip-Off Classic.