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After huge blown lead against Iowa, Indiana needs to find some answers

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Indiana opened Thursday’s game at Iowa playing its best basketball of the season.

The Hoosiers completely steamrolled Iowa in the opening 10 minutes. IU bullied the Hawkeyes and took advantage of their extremely poor defense. Indiana got whatever it wanted offensively.

But the end result was far too familiar. The Hoosiers squandered a 21-point lead as Iowa escaped with its third-largest comeback in program history and a 91-89 win. And IU left Carver-Hawkeye Arena with far more questions than answers.

Race Thompson suffered a right leg injury in the first half that kept him out for the rest of the night. He was playing well before that moment, and his absence was massive. It changed the entire game.

But that wasn’t why Indiana lost — at least not the sole reason. By the time Thompson got hurt, Iowa had already gained footing and momentum in the game. Indiana led by 10 when the injury occurred with 4:27 to play in the first half, and IU went into halftime up 10.

What swung this game is that Iowa adjusted, and Indiana didn’t.

The Hoosiers tore apart Iowa’s defense in the beginning, yes. But Fran McCaffery switched into a 2-3 zone midway through the first half, and Indiana looked flummoxed. Connor McCaffery said as much after the game, that the Hoosiers were thrown off by a simple adjustment.

The Hawkeyes added a 2-2-1 press to the mix, which further slowed IU down and caused miscues. It’s tough to identify offense as an issue when a team scores 89 points, but Indiana missed several opportunities to pull even further away from Iowa because of those adjustments. If IU could’ve extended one of its runs by another minute or two, that would’ve been the difference in the game.

But it didn’t happen.

IU head coach Mike Woodson said Thompson was IU’s best matchup for Iowa’s Kris Murray, and Murray took off after Thompson went out. The Iowa junior scored nine points in the first half, 21 in the second.

That’s where the injury did tangibly impact the game. Indiana’s secondary defensive options against Murray had a lot of trouble keeping up.

“We just didn’t play like we played the first half,” Woodson said. “Our defense, it just went the other way. Murray had his way, he was a big part of it. He had 21 in the second half, and that’s huge, when you’re trying to win a close game.”

Iowa chipped away at the deficit early in the second half, and took the lead by the under-12 media timeout. Indiana’s defensive lapses continued, and Iowa was just knocking down difficult shots.

And that’s when the end result began to feel like a formality. Indiana has cratered in these sorts of situations so many times in the last few years. A blown lead on the road, a loud building in a hostile environment, momentum firmly on the other side. Those are the games Indiana lets get away.

But suddenly, IU fought back. After the Hawkeyes grew their lead to four points with 7:33 left, Indiana made a 12-2 run over the next four minutes. The Hoosiers locked in on both ends, came up with some big defensive plays, and seemingly flipped this game around.

After everything that had transpired, it was one of the most impressive stretches Indiana’s put together all season. Trayce Jackson-Davis battled through pain like a warrior, and it looked like he and Jalen Hood-Schifino would will their team to victory on a night where so much else had gone wrong. With a six-point lead at the final media timeout, IU could see out the win by playing its cards properly.

But in a game that spiraled out of control for 40 minutes, that conclusion was too simple.

Iowa promptly made a 9-0 run out of that timeout, and closed the door on Indiana at the foul line. Jackson-Davis went 2 for 4 at the stripe late in the game with IU down by three. Foul shooting, overall, was one of the big differences, as the Hoosiers’ 17-for-26 mark at the free-throw line encapsulates their numerous missed opportunities.

“We did everything to build the lead, and then when I went to the bench and started shuffling, we can’t play everybody 40 minutes. And we just started having some miscues. And then when Race went out, that was a big blow,” Woodson said. “I still thought we had a shot at it at the end. You’re up six with three to go on the clock, and we can’t close it coming out of that timeout. They had an 8-0 run, just that quick.”

The amount of things that went wrong for Indiana on Thursday stack up very quickly. How do you come back from a game like this? One of your best players goes down, you waste one of your best overall offensive showings of the season, and let a massive lead slip away.

Thompson’s injury status, one way or another, will have the biggest ripple effect for the rest of Indiana’s season. Woodson said he’ll get an X-ray and an MRI back in Bloomington.

But Indiana’s got a litany of other things to work through ahead of Sunday’s game against Northwestern, and really, the rest of the Big Ten slate. How did the Hoosiers get out-toughed by an Iowa team that was really struggling coming into this game?

How did they let this type of game happen again?

IU needs to find those answers, and soon, before more than just one game spirals out of control.

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