BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Archie Miller was relieved to get a win Wednesday.
What transpired along the way still concerns Indiana’s coach.
Trayce Jackson-Davis made the tie-breaking free throws with 1:57 left then punctuated the late comeback with an alley-oop dunk to help Indiana close out a 66-62 victory over Northwestern.
“We were not very together, not very energized early and it took urgency and it took desperation to sort of kick us into gear,” Miller said. “Once it got going, I thought we played a little harder.”
That much was evident over the final 12 minutes as Miller watched Indiana’s improved effort change the game — and perhaps the season.
The Hoosiers (12-3, 2-2 Big Ten) snapped a two-game losing streak, earning their first victory since Dec. 21 and posting their largest victory margin in a non-overtime game since Dec. 3.
It was almost exclusively thanks to Jackson-Davis, Justin Smith and Aljami Durham, who bailed the Hoosiers out of another bad shooting night.
Jackson-Davis finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, Smith added 18 points and six rebounds and Durham had 16 points and four assists. The other eight players were 4 of 25 from the field with 11 points and five assists.
“We were definitely lacking some energy,” Smith said. “Why, I couldn’t tell you. I just think it’s kind of, we need to be more engaged going into it.”
For much of the game, Northwestern (5-9, 0-4) took advantage of the Hoosiers miscues.
The Wildcats rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to take a 34-31 halftime lead. Eight minutes into the second half, Northwestern was up 50-40 and seemed to be rolling.
But when Miller turned up the defensive pressure, the young, short-handed Wildcats buckled and the Hoosiers responded in full force.
Indiana scored 10 straight to tie the score and when Northwestern retook a five-point lead with 7:38 left, Smith scored the next five for Indiana. Jackson-Davis added six more in the final two minutes to seal it.
Pat Spencer had 15 points, five assists and four rebounds to lead the Wildcats, who have lost five straight. A.J. Turner and Miller Kopp each scored 12.
“We’ve got a real young group that’s trying to learn how to win,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “We’re on the right track, we’ve just got to continue the effort and we’ve got to find a way to get over the hump and start closing some of these games.”
Northwestern: The Wildcats are the lowest-scoring team in the Big Ten, and with all their injuries that may not change this season. But they play hard and are smart — a combination that nearly upended Indiana. They will create trouble for other conference teams, too, but they need to develop a finishing touch.
Indiana: Clearly, the Hoosiers are in a offensive funk. And Northwestern made it even worse when they went to a zone defense. Indiana never really solved the zone and if can’t start making make 3-pointers with some consistency, the Hoosiers can expect to see more zones — and more games that follow Wednesday’s script.
Northwestern: Turner returned to the lineup after missing the Wildcats’ previous game with a lower body injury. ... In the first half, Northwestern outscored Indiana 22-14 in the paint and forced 11 turnovers. They finished with only a 36-32 advantage in the paint. .. Collins is 0-4 in conference play for the first time in seven seasons at the school. ... Ryan Young added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Indiana: Joey Brunk had 12 rebounds. ... Jackson-Davis and Smith were each 7 of 11 from the field. ... The Hoosiers improved to 1-2 this season when trailing at halftime. ... Indiana had a 40-29 rebounding advantage and avoided its first home loss to Northwestern since 2014.
Northwestern: “You want them to taste winning and we put a lot into this. You don’t just come here to lay down and lose,” Collins said.
Indiana: “Very concerned with our group right now, just in terms of where our brains are, where our minds are and what we’re about,” Miller said. “We’ve got to get ourselves out of a little bit of a funk, and we have to start competing a little harder, because this is the toughest league in America right now to win a game.”
Northwestern heads home to take on Nebraska on Saturday following back-to-back road games.
Indiana completes a two-game homestand Saturday against No. 11 Ohio State.