Sunday, January 8, 2012

Spotlight Finds Roth and the Hoosiers

So the spotlight finds Matt Roth. It’s been a long time, three years if you’re counting.

Hey, you do a lot of counting when a guy comes off the bench to hit 5 of 6 three-pointers, goes 7-for-7 from the line and scores 22 points, one less than he scored in the previous 10 games.

Yeah, Roth had that kind of game against Penn State.

He wasn’t the sole reason Indiana held on for an 88-82 victory. These Hoosiers are about as far from a one-man team as you’re likely to find in college basketball. They’ve got weapons every where you look, and if the glamour comes from Christian Watford and Cody Zeller, well, don’t forget about Roth.

Penn State apparently did.

To understand how the 6-3 Roth lit up the Nittany Lions means understanding what he is and what he isn’t.

He’s a senior role player with a knack for hitting three-point shots from really long distances. He’s a smart guy, an academic All-Big Ten guy, who has already graduated. He’s enrolled in graduate school for sports administration and management.

Roth is not Victor Oladipo and capable of leaps and dunks that capture the imaginiation. He does not create with quickness or ballhandling. He is not a shutdown defender.

For Roth to get open depends on teammates driving and kicking, and if you’ve seen the Hoosiers play this season, you know they have a bunch of guys who can do that.

And while they do, Roth moves out beyond the three-point line. Sometimes WAY beyond it, so far guys think they don’t have to guard him out there.

They would be wrong.

Roth overcame a foot injury that cost him basically all of second year in Bloomington. He played a lot as a freshman, just two games as a sophomore and basically eight minutes a game as a junior.

He seemed to be an afterthought on this team. Before Sunday his biggest achievement came against Maryland Baltimore County, when he scored 14 points in 18 minutes.

He hit a couple of big three-pointers at Michigan State, lit up Stony Brook for eight points in seven minutes. That was about it.

Then came Sunday at Penn State and suddenly it was three years ago, Jan. 31, 2009, to be exact, when Roth went 9-for-11 from three-point range and scored 29 points in a 93-81 loss to Ohio State.

Roth burned the Nittany Lions in part because they were so focused on the inside and slowing down Watford and Zeller, they didn’t stay out on him. He made them pay with a hot perimeter stroke that has lasted all season (he’s shooting 56.7 percent from three-point range) and a sweet free throw touch that leaves him 10-for-10 for the year.

When he wasn’t draining three-pointers, teammate Jordan Hulls was. He went 7-for-9 from beyond the arc for a career-high 28 points. He and Roth had the bulk of IU’s 16 three-pointers, which was one off the school record.

That was five more than the Hoosiers had made in any game this season, and they did it with the same accuracy (they were 16-for-24) they’ve displayed all season. They shoot 47.8 percent from three-point range, which is ridiculously good.

Why do they shoot three-pointers so well? The short answer is practice. The long answer is lots of practice.

“I think we have good shooters and spacing,” coach Tom Crean said. “These guys spend a lot of time shooting. They’re open to their technique being corrected and we get a lot of reps. Cook Hall is part of that.

“We spend a lot of time at that part of it. I think that’s the development part of it, of really making it crucial in your practices, but them spending a lot of time on it on their own.”

All that has spurred IU to a 15-1 record, 3-1 in the Big Ten. By Monday afternoon the Hoosiers will likely be a top-10 team, with more opportunities to come Thursday against slumping Minnesota and Sunday at dangerous Ohio State.

Yeah, it’s spotlight time. Who knows who it will find next time.

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