The already thin IU men’s basketball lineup will be without another important player when it takes the court Sunday evening at Welsh-Ryan Arena against Northwestern.
Junior guard James Blackmon Jr. is out indefinitely with a lower leg injury per a statement issued by IU Coach Tom Crean on the IU men’s basketball Twitter account. The reigning Big Ten player of the week injured his leg against Michigan on Thursday night but still played 33 minutes in the blowout loss.
Blackmon brought the ball down the court with fewer than three minutes remaining in the first half Thursday and left the game as soon as he passed the ball. He ran over to the IU bench gingerly as play stopped. He returned to action immediately after the injury timeout but only took three shots the entire game and zero after the injury occurred.
With the Hoosiers already missing sophomore forward OG Anunoby for the remainder of the season and coming off a 30-point loss last time on the road, losing Blackmon puts IU in an even deeper hole against an improved Northwestern team.
“James is a big loss for our team obviously, and our opportunity here at Northwestern has just made all that more difficult without James,” assistant coach Rob Judson said. “You look at our team and the situation we have going back to Collin Hartman being out, OG being out, Juwan Morgan before the Michigan game was day-to-day and a game time decision and now James. This is a situation as a coach where you do the best you can with what you have and where you are at that moment.”
The Wildcats are 17-4 overall this season and 6-2 in conference play while riding a five game win steak. Northwestern is the only power five school never to make the NCAA tournament, but that streak looks like it will end this year with junior guard Bryant McIntosh orchestrating the offense to perfection.
McIntosh is leading the Big Ten in assists with 5.6 per game, and the Wildcats have the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference while the Hoosiers are 11th in that category. IU junior guard Robert Johnson has been the guy in charge of shutting down opposing guards all season, and he’s seen the improvements McIntosh has made throughout his career at Northwestern.
“He’s mixing it up,” Johnson said. “Not just looking to get other guys involved, but he’s looking for himself more, and I think he’s playing more confident.”
Two players that can heat up from beyond the arc for the Wildcats on Sunday are Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law. Both are shooting above 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc, and after IU’s defensive struggles against Michigan they’ll have to key in on the two Wildcat premier scorers.
Johnson said he thinks the Hoosiers have gotten better at challenging shots throughout the season, but with good shooters you don’t only have to challenge shots but also take them away.
“You have to have a hand up so they don’t shoot the ball — that’s a shot challenge,” Johnson said. “A lot of times just having a hand up doesn’t affect shooters, so I think it comes back to taking shots away from shooters.”
Without Blackmon in the lineup Sunday, it’s possible freshman guards Devonte Green and Curtis Jones will see more playing time, but Judson said the team as a whole needs to step up to replace Blackmon.
Sophomore forward Juwan Morgan also missed two games with a foot injury before returning against Michigan in a limited role, but there’s no update on how many minutes he’ll be able to play against Northwestern. Regardless who steps on the floor for IU on Sunday, Judson said they’ll have to take it possession by possession to be successful.
“You just have to keep doing what you can with what you have and stay in the moment and do the best with every possession and with every practice,” Judson said. “Our team has pulled together with that, and we’re looking forward to really taking a step with this opportunity in another Big Ten road game.”