The scoreboard at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall may have said that IU lost to Northwestern by one point, but the game was not really that close.
It required a ridiculous Trey Galloway moonshot buzzer-beater to get the final score to 84-83, and IU closed the game on a 13-5 run during the last minute.
And while the Hoosiers deserve credit for refusing to give up late in the game, their effort was the reason they were in that spot to begin with.
IU head coach Mike Woodson said his team was outworked not just by Northwestern, but also on Thursday at Iowa.
“It ain’t rocket science, you’ve got to work harder,” Woodson said. “Nobody is just going to hand-deliver you wins. We’ve got to go earn a win.”
The problems start on the defensive end. Indiana’s offense was far from perfect Sunday — more on that later — but Northwestern is one of the top defensive teams in the country. IU scored 80 points against the Wildcats, with 1.169 points per possession. Northwestern averaged 0.802 opponent points per possession entering this game, which was fourth in the country.
But Indiana’s defense was a big problem, just as it was against Iowa. Northwestern shooters were left wide open, way too often. Wildcats crossed up Hoosier defenders far too easily.
Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson are two of the team’s better defenders, and both missed the game with injuries. And that obviously impacted IU’s defense. Trayce Jackson-Davis said the Hoosiers got discombobulated on defense, and missing two veterans who are key on that end can lead to that.
But it was more than just that. IU racked up fouls, giving Northwestern 28 free-throw attempts.
The coaching staff tried to adjust early, when Northwestern’s offense was on fire. Woodson brought out a full-court press, and switched to a zone — he said he used that more than he’s ever used zone in his coaching career.
And while it helped bring Northwestern’s offense closer to Earth, the Wildcats just torched Indiana. They average 0.971 points per possession this season, ranking 232nd in the country and last in the Big Ten. They finished at 1.20 on Sunday.
IU made Northwestern look like an offensive juggernaut.
There’s only so much IU can do about injuries, and with Thompson’s in particular, it’s a tough situation to put Jordan Geronimo and Malik Reneau in. But those two have really struggled in filling in for Thompson’s defense.
But that’s not the crux of IU’s problems on defense.
Whether it was letting guys go by them, not going hard enough for 50/50 balls, or just losing defensive assignments, Indiana’s defensive effort was not good enough.
“Coach had a great game plan and I don’t think we followed it at all, honestly,” Jackson-Davis said. “We didn’t switch when we needed to switch, and it’s mental errors. When you don’t listen to your coaches, that’s going to really hurt you because obviously they were getting whatever shot they wanted.”
Offensively, there’s no shame in getting bogged down by a defense as good as Northwestern’s. But committing 16 turnovers, in the fashion IU did Sunday, is another story.
Indiana made so many lazy, careless passes. The type of mistakes that good teams don’t make.
Not all of those led to turnovers, like an ill-advised alley-oop attempt from Miller Kopp to Tamar Bates early in the second half. Many of them, like Trey Galloway’s floating pass to nobody in particular in the first half, did.
Indiana just got too sloppy on offense, despite scoring 83 points.
Turnovers were the only blemish on Jalen Hood-Schifino’s game Sunday. He shot efficiently — 12 for 17 from the field and 5 for 7 from 3-point range — and carried IU’s offense in the second half, finishing with a season-high 33 points. He’s been more assertive after IU’s holiday break, and it’s paid dividends with his two highest-scoring games of the season.
But he committed six turnovers, through trying to force some passes and making ill-advised decisions elsewhere. And that’s a real issue for a team that, with Johnson out, needs Hood-Schifino to be efficient in both his shooting and his playmaking.
“Just got to stop turning the ball over. There’s not really too much you can do,” Hood-Schifino said. “I think first half, that killed us, especially with me; I had some turnovers, and they had some lay-ups and converted off it. We’ve just got to be better with the ball, and we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll get there.”
The effort problem worked in both directions Sunday. Jackson-Davis can’t be knocked for effort, at all, in either of the last two losses. The senior played all 40 minutes Sunday, and he couldn’t have done any more without snapping in half.
Jackson-Davis grabbed 24 rebounds — the eighth-most in a single game in IU history — scored 18 points, and dished eight assists. He had a double-double by halftime. He’s been battling back trouble, and he still battled hard on every possession, and put his body on the line multiple times. He was a warrior.
And for a second straight game, Indiana wasted his tremendous effort.
“He’s giving it to us every night. He’s a dominant player, one of the best players I’ve played with,” Hood-Schifino said. “For a guy to go out there and play his heart out, and for us to still come up short, it’s definitely tough, a tough pill to swallow.”
The Hoosiers have a talented roster that is capable of playing better basketball than they’ve shown the last two outings.
The mounting injuries make that harder, undoubtedly. But poor effort and careless play make it even more difficult.
Indiana can control one of those two things.
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