Senior duo gives Indiana passion team was missing (Men’s Basketball)

Jim Martinho

Coming off an 81-69 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, Indiana coach Mike Davis said his Hoosiers needed one thing heading into their next game against Northwestern: passion.

Kyle Hornsby and Tom Coverdale responded.

The senior duo has struggled lately but came alive against NU, leading Indiana with 19 points apiece in the Hoosiers’ 71-57 win. But perhaps more importantly, they set an example of toughness that rubbed off on the rest of the Hoosiers.

Hornsby, who hails from Anacoco, La., lit up the Cats for a career-high in points on 7 of 9 shooting and showed the kind of hustle Davis has criticized his team for lacking all season.

After going scoreless against the Buckeyes (0-for-9 from the field, with eight of those misses coming from beyond the arc), the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter hit the Assembly Hall floor on fire, draining all four of his 3-point attempts en route a 12-point first half.

And he didn’t let up in the second half, extending the Hoosiers’ lead to 43-24 with a 15-foot leaner and another trey. Hornsby finally missed from 3-point range with 10:47 left in the game.

Coverdale entered the game needing just four points to reach 1,000 for his career, but he struggled to find his shot in the first half, scoring only three points. The Noblesville, Ind., native knocked down 5 of 6 shots after the break, however, riling up the capacity crowd with each basket.

As Coverdale and Hornsby heated up, it exposed one of NU’s biggest problems against the Hoosiers — perimeter defense. The Cats zone defense focused on stopping big men George Leach and Jeff Newton, leaving Hornsby and Coverdale with open looks at the basket. Indiana shot 25 of 40 for the game, including 13 of 22 from beyond the arc.

“Coach talked so much about shutting down Leach and Newton in the post, we were confused,” junior guard Jitim Young said. “Coverdale and Hornsby started filling it up, and it was total confusion on the court.”

The duo’s hot shooting came at the perfect time for the Hoosiers, who were without leading scorer Bracey Wright. The freshman phenom missed the game with a recurring back injury.

“When Coverdale, Hornsby and Wright are out there together, I’ll put them up against any three guards in the country,” Davis said. “If we can get those three guys playing with passion, we can win a lot of games.”

And passion was exactly what Indiana needed, at least according to Davis. The coach criticized his seniors all week leading up to the game and even hinted at benching Coverdale.

But Hornsby dove to the floor to save a loose ball midway through the first half and grabbed several rebounds in traffic. Coverdale pulled down five boards in the first half, and his energy invigorated the Hoosiers like it hadn’t since Indiana’s overtime win against Maryland on Dec. 3.

“We played with passion tonight for the first time since the Maryland game,” Davis said. “We’ve played hard, but there’s a difference between playing hard and playing with passion. When you play with passion you get the loose balls, you get the block-outs and you get the defensive rebounds.”

After reaching last year’s national championship game on toughness as much as talent, Davis said his squad will need to play hard to replicate the success of last season.

“What we did last year was really special,” Davis said. “If we keep playing like this we can do it again.”