Moving forward without Anunoby

All of Hoosier nation would like to go back in time to Wednesday night in State College, Pennsylvania to try and stop sophomore forward OG Anunoby from going up for a rebound with fewer than 10 seconds left in the first half.

But it happened. Anunoby went up for the board and his right leg gave out from underneath him as he fell to the ground in pain. On Friday afternoon it was announced he would undergo season-ending knee surgery.

Anunoby is a major part of the IU men’s basketball team given the size and strength he provides on both ends of the floor. But now for the remainder of the season, the Hoosiers will have to play without him.

 “Needless to say it’s been a long couple of days for everybody, very hard for him, for all of us,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “But that’s the beauty of this team and this program is the support they have for one another and I’m very proud of them with that. So not only are they getting ready for a game, but they’re being there for their teammate.”

With Michigan State set to tip off against the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall in less than 24 hours, not only will IU be without Anunoby, but Crean also said sophomore forward Juwan Morgan is doubtful for Saturday with a foot injury. After Morgan missed Wednesday night’s game against Penn State and Anunoby was out in the second half, it was apparent how slim the Hoosiers are now at forward.

Crean said he can’t get into specifics on who’s going to do what Saturday on the floor for IU against Michigan State, but knows his team just needs to keep it simple for everyone else around them.

“Everybody that plays needs to do their very best job they can do of making the game simpler for the other guys and really we’ve got to continue to pick up our defense and our rebounding,” Crean said. “OG is a threat to score at the rim, on the break, he’s obviously a threat to score from anywhere on the floor when he puts that ball on the ground and puts that shoulder down. His three point shooting wasn’t great, but it was certainly something we looked to. We’ve just got to make sure we do everything we can defensively.”

It won’t be easy for the Hoosiers to replace a potential NBA draft lottery pick on the floor for the remainder of the season, but when Morgan comes back he’ll slightly aid the Hoosiers’ wounds.

Freshman forward De’Ron Davis and sophomore forward Zach McRoberts are expected to see a larger role on the court now but each have a fair share of question marks surrounding their play.

Davis is averaging 6.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in the first 19 games, but averages fewer than 13 minutes per game. His big body allows him to control the paint, but he’s also committed three personal fouls or more in a game nine times this season, and fouled out Wednesday night against Penn State.

Crean said Davis just doesn’t realize how good of an athlete he is yet and said sometimes it takes a lot of reminders for guys before they fully become the player they can be.

Davis will be forced to eat a lot of clock for IU moving forward, but the burden of replacing Anunoby’s 25 minutes per game won’t rest solely on him. McRoberts is expected to get into the mix more as well after playing 10 minutes in the second half at Penn State due to Anunoby’s injury.

The 6-foot-6 McRoberts isn’t Anunoby in the slightest, but his teammates and Crean say that he makes up for size in the way he hustles on the floor.

“The balancing act as a coach is to not make them feel pressure to do more, but to give them as many opportunities to feel confident that they can do more,” Crean said. “But more doesn’t mean necessarily for guys that ‘I have to take more shots or I have to get more looks.’ It’s making the game simpler and becoming a better defender, impacting the game constantly on the defensive end. So whether it’s Zach or anyone else, that’s what we have to do as a team.”

Anunoby will now undergo the third major knee surgery on IU in the past 13 months dating back to junior guard James Blackmon Jr.’s surgery at the start of Big Ten play last season and senior forward Colin Hartman’s surgery during the preseason this year.

Crean feels comfortable with his team overcoming adversity, much like they did Wednesday night at Penn State when they blew a 14-point lead in the second half but were still able to win on the final play of the game. However, for the Hoosiers, it can’t just be one player that steps up in Anunoby’s absence. It has to be everybody.

“They never lost their poise, they never flinched and that was a great sign of a team getting better,” Crean said about his team’s performance against Penn State. “Now what does that mean for tomorrow, I have no idea. But that night we took those steps and then the end of the game we executed perfectly. You hope that’s something they can’t take with them and carry forward.”

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