To see how valuable transfer sophomore forward Zach McRoberts is to the IU men’s basketball team, you have to go beyond the point total.
The 6-foot-6 Carmel, Indiana, native earned his second start of the season Saturday against Michigan State in the wake of sophomore forwards OG Anunoby’s and Juwan Morgan’s injuries.
While there’s no possible way for McRoberts to make up for the size and strength of Anunoby and Morgan, he was able to out-hustle the Spartans and create second-chance points and turnovers in IU’s 82-75 victory against Michigan State.
“We know what Zach can do, and that’s why we’re confident when he’s out there,” junior guard James Blackmon Jr. said. “He brings so much to the table. He brings that energy and does the little things that we need.”
McRoberts was thrown into a major role against the Spartans and responded. He finished with five rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block and made his one and only shot, an elbow 3-pointer, with 15:30 left in the second half.
After averaging just 10 minutes of play through the first six conference games and not even seeing the floor last week against Maryland, he played a career-high 32 minutes Saturday. McRoberts said he never felt tired after the uptick in minutes and credits the hard practices he and his teammates go through to get him to this point.
“No matter how many minutes, I think guys are ready,” McRoberts said. “Coach Crean always talks about playing on demand, so I was ready to play however many minutes.”
McRoberts played at Vermont his freshman year and averaged 4.2 points in 27 games as a Catamount. After his first year of collegiate ball he decided to drop basketball completely and come to IU for his sophomore year just to take classes.
McRoberts decided to get back into basketball after a year removed from organized competition and walked on to the IU team this season. He said in his time away from the game he played a little bit of basketball just to stay in shape but nothing serious. On Saturday he played an important role in the Hoosiers getting above .500 in conference play.
“Definitely from where I was a year ago to now is definitely a special opportunity for me,” McRoberts said. “The coaches have been great, the players have been great in my transition back, so I want to thank them. It’s just been a great opportunity.”
While McRoberts only had three points on the afternoon and has shot the ball just 17 times all season, the Hoosiers were far better with him on the court against Michigan State. IU was plus 14 in the scoring margin when McRoberts was on the floor. It was the best plus-minus rating for any Hoosier on Saturday.
IU Coach Tom Crean said he started McRoberts in the first exhibition game of the season against Hope College so McRoberts knew he was meaningful to the team. Crean also said from the moment senior forward Collin Hartman went down with a knee injury in the preseason, he knew McRoberts could fulfill Hartman’s role moving without the ball and playing with hustle.
“He serves his teammates. He’s one of those guys who wants to make everyone better, and sometimes he’s gotta be reminded that he’s pretty good too,” Crean said. “He’s very, very valuable to them. I was sold when I watched him this summer, when I watched the work he put into his body, to gain the weight that he did after he tried out and we’re really happy to have him.”
With Anunoby and Morgan averaging a combined 45 minutes per game, the Hoosiers had to turn to the reserves to play meaningful minutes against Michigan State, and McRoberts answered.
McRoberts said he doesn’t see himself as the glue guy for IU, but after the production he gave IU with the Hoosiers being plus 14 in his 32 minutes on the floor, it’s hard to not see him as that.
“I just like doing little things and helping my teammates out,” McRoberts said. “I probably wouldn’t throw any titles on it yet, just do anything we can to come together as a team and win.”