Indiana basketball picked up another big win on Sunday and Justin Smith continued to impact the game beyond the stats in the box score.
Archie Miller and the Indiana basketball program have been looking for five guys who will provide the team with consistent effort and energy when they are on the floor. Up to this point in the season, unfortunately, Miller has spent more time looking for the answers than actually receiving answers.
Throughout Justin Smith’s career, he has never been known for the hustle plays or as a defensive stopper. This year, however, Smith has started to figure out that he can impact the game beyond that key stats in a box score and do it by the plays that ultimately win games.
Coming into the season, Archie Miller stressed the fact that Justin Smith could and should be an All-Big Ten type defender with his athleticism and versatility. Through inconsistencies, like many others on the team, Smith flashed his potential but never played to that level consistently. It wasn’t until halfway through this year when it seemed to click for Smith.
What most people probably didn’t know is that Smith leads the Hoosiers in minutes, the only member of the roster to be over 30 minutes a game, and there is a reason for that, and it’s not his scoring.
Taking just four shots on Sunday, and only averaging 5.3 attempts per game over the last four, Smith finished with nine points and eight rebounds – neither of which jump out at you. It’s the manner in which he got those stats that contributed to the win and honestly have jolted Indiana firmly in the NCAA Tournament field, with a 3-1 record in the last two weeks.
Whereas usually, this little impact in the scoring column would have impacted Smith’s ability to compete and play hard, it has flipped the script this season for the junior.
“If the ball doesn’t come to me offensively, I’ve got to make my impact somewhere else,” Smith emphasized. “And I’m okay with that. Whether it’s getting steals, getting rebounds, whatever is needed of me.”
That’s exactly what he did. Whether it was the rundown block on a fast break against Minnesota that came at a crucial time in the first half, or the timely offensive rebounds – three against Penn State – or even the two and-1 opportunities that he had that halted runs for Penn State due to his hustle, Smith has made game-winning plays even if they don’t always impact the score at the current moment.
His game has grown throughout the first three years of his college career, but what is even more reflective is how much he has matured over the course of the past 12 months, as a player, yes, but as a leader even more.