Is it a report card, or a reading of last rites?
Indiana lost its fourth straight game on Tuesday night in East Lansing, and in the process seemingly lost any realistic hope of playing in an NCAA Tournament that will be held entirely in the Hoosier State in a couple weeks.
IU is now under the .500 mark in the month of March for the first time since 2011. That was at the end of the rebuild after one implosion. Indiana is now perilously on the brink of another, with their rival all too eagerly awaiting the chance to push them over the edge.
The Hoosiers (12-13, 7-11) will travel to Purdue for a 2 p.m. ET tip at Mackey Arena on Saturday to close out the regular season.
If you think Indiana has given up on a season or on a coach, that opinion would be at odds with what Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo saw. Say what you will about the results, but IU is still competing.
“They played so hard it was scary,” Izzo said of Indiana to reporters after the game.
The reality is both teams played very hard. So hard in fact that they made the game very difficult to officiate. It is fair to say that the referees joined Indiana and Michigan State in having an uneven performance for most of the game. 45 fouls were called and 59 free throws attempted, leading to an ugly Big Ten game that never really had offensive flow.
“It was probably one of the most physical games that we’ve seen on both ends of the floor,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said.
Unfortunately for IU right now, effort and execution are not always on the same page. Because they were playing hard, IU claimed a six point first half lead and a five point second half lead.
But when push came to shove and it was time to close, the Hoosiers could not deliver on either end. After a Trey Galloway layup gave IU a 49-48 lead with 4:47 left, the Hoosiers would not make another field goal until :15 seconds remained. And during that stretch is precisely when Michigan State figured things out and put Indiana away.
Izzo said in his post-game press conference that he was “humiliated” by the way Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson dominated Michigan State in the first meeting. The pair combined for 49 points in Bloomington ten days earlier.
But Indiana’s second leading scorer and best perimeter shooter Armaan Franklin played in that first game. His absence due to a lower right leg injury likely caused Izzo to completely change the game plan. Not known as a post-double team, Michigan State packed the paint, making life difficult for Jackson-Davis and Thompson while daring IU’s remaining guards to beat them from the perimeter.
It worked to perfection as Jackson-Davis and Thompson combined for just 17 this time, including just eight from the field. It was the first time all year that Jackson-Davis failed to reach double figures, and his five attempts from the field were well under his previous low of eight.
Indiana’s guards were never able to make MSU pay for their new approach. The Hoosiers converted on just 10 percent of their attempts from long range.
“You’re going to have a hard time winning on the road when you go 2 for 20 from 3,” Miller said. “Things aren’t going to open up inside the paint very much if you can’t bring them out. Guys have to bang ’em. They didn’t go in.”
Indiana scored just .892 points per possession, the third straight game they have been below .9. Indiana has also been 38.5 percent or worse from the field during that span.
Why not an F? Indiana didn’t turn the ball over, they were able to get out and score some in transition, and they were handcuffed without Franklin on the floor. The ball simply didn’t go in.
Indiana had done everything right on the defensive end for 36 minutes. And then Michigan State remembered that they had Aaron Henry.
The Indianapolis product personally outscored IU 12-3 at the game’s critical juncture, a repeat of what he had done just ten days ago.
“They were just going to him every time,” IU guard Rob Phinisee said. “They had a lot of pin downs, and I feel like we didn’t front the post like we should have to try to deny him the ball. I feel like if we would have fronted the post a little bit better that would have limited his possessions.”
After watching Henry pummel them in Bloomington, and with not even Franklin as a possibility to try to stop him, Indiana simply had to get the ball out of Henry’s hands by any means necessary. It was a make someone else beat you moment, but Indiana continued to allow itself to be isolated in one-on-one matchups with Henry.
“He’s a great driver and to his credit he made some great baskets there late,” Miller said.
The numbers highlight what was in fact an otherwise strong defensive effort. The Spartans made just 37.7 percent of their shots. IU held Michigan State to .984 points per possession. It was just the second time all season (Florida State, Texas) that Indiana held an opponent under a point per possession and didn’t win.
If there was another critical factor beyond Henry, it was Michigan State’s 13 offensive rebounds. Those second chances generated just six points, but every point was critical in what was a very tight game until the late MSU closing run.
MORE GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score and specialty stats
- Miller and Phinisee post-game
- Tom Izzo post-game
- Indiana basketball all but out of hope
- Extended Highlights:
Rob Phinisee (player of the game) — If there are any good feels coming out of this one, it was seeing Phinisee starting to emerge from his funk. The junior point guard helped get Indiana going early on both ends, and he looked to score inside and out. It wasn’t his most efficient day, and he was far from flawless, but Phinisee played with an attacking downhill mindset for most of the game. His shooting percentages might have been a tick higher if not for some poor passes that led to him being out of rhythm on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Michigan State’s point guards were also held scoreless and committed three turnovers on the night. Indiana will need Phinisee’s A-game in his hometown if the Hoosiers have any hope of knocking off Purdue on Saturday.
Player of the game tracker: Jackson-Davis (9), Thompson (5), Durham (4), Phinisee (4), Franklin (3).
Joey Brunk had back surgery and is out for the season.
Transfer Parker Stewart is also unlikely to appear this season.
Armaan Franklin is unlikely to return during the regular season due to a new injury he suffered last week.
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