EAST LANSING, MI - MARCH 02, 2021 - forward Trayce Jackson-Davis #23 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Indiana Hoosiers at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, MI. Photo By Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics

Indiana basketball all but out of hope

Archie Miller claimed to have either missed or forgotten the moment.

He was asked about what went wrong for his All-Big Ten big man Trayce Jackson-Davis on Tuesday night, and specifically why he seemed to be so visibly upset during a huddle during the under-12 media timeout in the second half.

“I don’t remember the incident you’re talking about,” Miller said.

But the Big Ten Network cameras caught it, so it will be much more difficult for Indiana fans to forget. For the moment it’s impossible to know exactly what Jackson-Davis said and why and to whom because it was a pretty tight shot. But that certainly appeared to be an F-Bomb that catapulted out of his mouth in the general direction of where the head coach would usually sit during a timeout. Jackson-Davis wasn’t on the floor when Indiana broke the huddle and several teammates put his arm around him and tried to talk him down, including injured sophomore guard Armaan Franklin, injured center Joey Brunk and junior point guard Rob Phinisee.

The Hoosiers were actually winning at the time, but the bottom eventually fell out as Michigan State took a 64-58 victory in a game that might put the Spartans on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble and the Hoosiers so far on the wrong side of it that it may now be impossible for them to get back without a Big Ten tournament miracle. Whether the Jackson-Davis incident was as ugly as it appeared to be on television or not, it was certainly a moment that seemed to capture a team that appears fractured as its season slips away.

Just two weeks ago, the Hoosiers appeared to be safe. Their win over Minnesota on Feb. 17 was as solid and clean of a victory as they had all season, and it was one of their most meaningful with both teams on the bubble.

But they haven’t won since, and at no point in their four straight losses have they played with the fire or desperation of a team with as much on the line as they have. They are now 12-13 overall, 7-11 in the Big Ten, and to get through the regular season with a .500 record, they need a win Saturday in Mackey Arena against Purdue, a prospect that appears more unlikely by the day. The Hoosiers haven’t beaten Purdue anywhere since 2016 and haven’t won in Mackey Arena since 2013. Meanwhile the Boilermakers have won four straight games and appear headed for a top 5 seed in the tournament.

In Miller’s four seasons with the Hoosiers he’s never finished better than 20-12 and in his first season he was just four games over .500 combined. Failing to post a winning record in his fourth season, unconventional as 2020-21 has been with limited non-conference games and cancellations due to COVID-19, would be a particularly dark mark on his resumé. It would be the Hoosiers’ first sub .500 season since 2010-11 when the Hoosiers were still digging out from the Kelvin Sampson recruiting scandal. As originally noted by the Indy Star’s Zach Osterman, the Hoosiers will fail to post a winning record in the Big Ten for the fifth straight season, and Indiana hasn’t had that kind of drought since 1919.

Miller’s explanations for why this is happening continue to be less than satisfactory for IU fans, and for that reason, calls to terminate his employment despite the buyout of over $10 million that would be required to do so are increasing.

“We’re playing very good teams,” Miller said when asked why the team has struggled to win.

He was more forthcoming when asked about the specific reasons why the Hoosiers lost on Tuesday night, which are similar to why they’ve lost games before.

For the second straight meeting with Michigan State they were dominated by junior wing Aaron Henry, a Ben Davis High School graduate and one-time Indiana target. After going off for 27 points in the Spartans’ win at Assembly Hall, he made up for a quiet first half in which he only scored four points with 18 in the second half to finish with 22 for the game along with eight rebounds and five assists.

After a layup by Indiana freshman Trey Galloway gave the Hoosiers a 49-48 lead with 4:47 to go, Henry took over the game all by himself. He scored 12 straight Michigan State points during a period in which Indiana scored three, and he put the Spartans up eight points with 45 seconds to go.

“Aaron Henry’s a very good player,” Miller said. “He deserves a lot of credit on his development with his staff. He’s physical, he’s athletic, he can dribble, pass and shoot. He shoots the ball a lot better, he’s a really good player.”

Jackson-Davis, meanwhile, was frustrated because he couldn’t get much of anything done. He got in early foul trouble was just 1 of 5 from the field and for the first time all season he failed to score at least 10 points with nine. This was after he scored 34 against Michigan State in the previous meeting.

“They did a much better job of not giving him as deep of catches,” Miller said. “He didn’t have an easy time when he did catch the ball because of the overall bodies around the basket, and it was a physical game.”

And offensively, no one picked up the slack for Indiana the way Henry did for Michigan State. The Hoosiers were 18 of 55 from the field (32.7 percent) and Phinisee was the only player who finished in double digits with 16 points. After some recent improvement beyond the 3-point arc, the Hoosiers were just 2 of 20 there on Tuesday, missing some open ones with Michigan State packing the paint. Senior guard Al Durham was 0 of 3 and airballed a wide open one when the Hoosiers were down just one point and Henry followed with a 3 that started to blow the game open.

“The ball didn’t go in,” Miller said. “I mean, period. They’re inside-out 3s. They’re drive-and-kick 3s. They’re one-two step tee-ball 3s. They didn’t go in. There’s not a whole lot to talk about.”

There certainly isn’t much more to say at this point for an Indiana season that seems to be quickly coming to its end. The discussions left to be had are about Miller’s future with Indiana, and whether that continues into 2021-22.

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