The first red flag of the season went up on Wednesday night. And Happy Holidays to you.
Most preseason prognostications had Northwestern as a bottom-feeder in a rugged-looking Big Ten.
The Wildcats are no doubt better than what folks thought, but if a 74-67 home loss to Northwestern foretells what is to come in league play, well, it could be a long season.
There is a long way to go here, but Indiana is going to have to find something fast with no days off in the Big Ten.
A road trip to Illinois to face the No. 18 Illini.
The grind is here.
It was a game of big runs, and Northwestern had the closing dagger.
The Wildcats ran out to a 33-18 first half lead, only to see IU respond with a 32-14 answer to pull out to a 50-47 second half advantage.
But Northwestern closed the game with a 27-17 run led by an incredible 17-point performance by Chase Audige over the last nine minutes.
Indiana only had seven players with more than three minutes of game action, and head coach Archie Miller thought his team might have wore down in the final ten minutes.
“We were up four and at that point we felt pretty good that we were going to be able to hang in there but I thought we got fatigued as well,” Miller said after the game.
This was one of what will be many games where the Hoosiers could have used center Joey Brunk. The matchup with Northwestern big man Ryan Young would have been perfect. Young finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds in 21 minutes as IU struggled to keep him off the glass and defend him on the low block.
This Miller Indiana team is more bought in and plays harder than some of his other squads, but at least on this night, the result was familiar.
“I’m disappointed for our guys and how we played because I don’t think this team embraces playing that way,’ Miller said. “I think we have shown that we play hard and play together, but tonight for some odd reason we were just off balance and Northwestern had a little bit to do with it.
“This is probably of all the games, even the Texas game, we didn’t play well in that game at all, but we played hard. I watched the film, and looked at the numbers, did we do what we were supposed to do. We played hard, we just didn’t play well on offense, we stunk that day. Today I thought we stunk on both ends of the floor. There were a lot of breakdowns, a lot of sloppiness and it got us beat.”
Miller’s stated goal coming into the season was to commit 10 or 11 turnovers per game or less.
For the sixth game in a row, Indiana has had at least 14 miscues including 16 against the Wildcats on Wednesday night.
“We are making the same mistakes over and over sometimes in terms of taking care of the ball, which really hurt us tonight. Part of it was turning the ball over really hurt, especially in the first half, they got a lead, Miller said.
“I’m going to take full blame for our lack of improvement in the last few weeks in taking care of the ball. It is getting to a level where you are not going to win in this league if you don’t take care of the ball.”
The problem is so concerning to Miller that it has the fourth year IU head coach re-thinking his entire offensive philosophy with this team.
With players wearing down in a tight rotation and turnovers high, perhaps it is time to look to run less?
“Maybe we need to slow it down,” Miller said. “We are not playing that many guys anyway and if we keep turning the ball over in transition with numbers then maybe we just have to slow it down a little bit to make sure we do not turn it over. I know the turnovers are really hard to defend on the other end, especially against the teams in this league, they convert.”
IU started the game slowly from three-point range but finished 7-for-18 for the game including 4-of-8 in the second half.
Indiana’s offense is too reliant on Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin right now. And the heavy burden placed on them is likely leading to their higher turnover totals. After 10 combined giveaways against Butler, Franklin and Jackson-Davis combined for 8 more on Wednesday night.
You can’t blame it all on fatigue.
While Indiana’s defense broke down in the closing stretch, Northwestern was also having its way early in this one.
“For the first time all season probably in eight games our defense did not do the job for us tonight either,” Miller said.
The Wildcats scored 1.13 points per possession while shooting 56 percent from the field. Those are numbers that will get you beat on most nights.
IU held Northwestern well under their average of 12 three-pointers per game. But the Wildcats’ five-out approach created driving lanes that they exploited all night.
“When you look at their field goal percentage from two tonight, I think they were 21 for 31 from two-point range and that is not very good in this league,” Miller said. “No question about it, the single most important break down we had tonight, from the start of the game to the end, was we were not able to guard the bounce consistently like we have been. We were spread out and our defense was not as tight as it usually is.”
With its big men pulled out to the perimeter, Northwestern was able to avoid the shot-blocking abilities of Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson. The Hoosiers had just one block on the night.
“They had a lot of opportunities to challenge the rim. To be honest with you, we were not blocking them tonight,” Miller said.
There were some positives. The Hoosier defense forced the Wildcats into a season-high 16 turnovers, including nine in the second half. Indiana turned the extra possessions into 19 points and that fueled the second half rally.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score and specialty stats
- Miller and players post-game
- Chris Collins post-game
- Offense comes up short again
Trayce Jackson-Davis (B / Player of the game) Realistically, we could have put down Trayce Jackson-Davis as the player of the game for all eight contests, and that is becoming a little bit of a problem. He earned it on Wednesday with 22 points and 9 rebounds, but his space to operate is shrinking. Jackson-Davis can only do so much and that might be showing with his 10 turnovers over the last two games.
Race Thompson (D+) It was a tale of two halves once again for Thompson, and that is concerning. He had just 2 points and 1 rebound at the break, and after a valiant start to the second half, Thompson appeared to wear down in the closing minutes. Thompson’s edge is an x-factor for this team. He has to bring it for the entire game.
Al Durham (D-) Durham’s defensive shortcomings require that he not score just two points on the offensive end. And those two points came on a 2-for-4 effort from the stripe. He had three assists against just one turnover, but that one miscue was a late game killer.
Armaan Franklin (B-) Franklin continues to be a confident scorer. Northwestern tried to run him off the three-point line, but he showed his versatility with five two-pointers as he cut and dribbled to the basket all night. Like most everyone, he is turning it over too much.
Rob Phinisee (D) It feels silly to keep saying it, but Phinisee has to be more aggressive on the offensive end. Late in the game he got low and drew a foul while attacking off the bounce. That has to be his mentality for 40 minutes as he only had 1 assist on the night. He was effective at times limiting the looks of Boo Buie, who only managed 8 field goal attempts on the night.
Trey Galloway (B-) There was a lot to like about Galloway’s night, including two three-pointers, two steals and a lot of sharp passes. He was also stout on the defensive end. Galloway has to get stronger with the ball when attacking. If he can do that he may end up starting.
Jerome Hunter (D) Right now Hunter isn’t much more than a heat check off the bench, and a defensive liability. He isn’t quick enough to guard threes and hasn’t been able to deal with the physicality on either end playing the four. Hunter is making threes but isn’t seeing the volume to make a big impact.
Player of the game tracker: Jackson-Davis (4), Thompson (2), Durham (1), Franklin (1).
Note: Brunk was not in uniform as he continues to deal with a back issue. Brunk has missed every game this season.
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