Indiana’s 2018-19 basketball season took a dramatic turn on Monday night.
Once a season of great promise, things had gotten a little wobbly in recent weeks as the Hoosiers attempted to navigate a challenging Big Ten slate. Road losses in this league, while never enjoyable, were at least somewhat understandable.
Not only did Indiana lose on its home floor against the Cornhuskers, the Hoosiers delivered what was optically their worst performance of the season, both from an energy and an execution standpoint.
To make matters worse, IU now has to go back out on the road for four of their next five games. The lone home game in that stretch comes against No. 2 Michigan. Where Indiana will be after these next five games is difficult to imagine right now.
Archie Miller called it “probably one of the most disappointing games that we’ve played as a team this season.”
We’d have to take issue with that. There was no “probably” about it. All things considered, from the opponent, to losing at home, to now having to go back out on the road, this loss was particularly troubling.
A late first half, early second half run is the only thing that prevented an F here. But that also highlights the problem with this team right now. IU can play well in spurts, but these Hoosiers have not shown an ability to play a complete game all year, save for a Marquette game that now feels more like an outlier than an indicator.
It seems inconceivable that a ranked team playing in front of nearly 17,000 fans on their home court could lack energy, but that is exactly what IU head coach Archie Miller boiled it down to.
“We didn’t have any energy, any pop, either end of the floor, and we’ve been able to hang our hat on playing hard and playing tough and having a lot of guys in there contributing, and that wasn’t the case here tonight. I didn’t think that we played with near enough energy to compete in this league.
You can compensate for a lot of deficiencies with energy. Conversely, this season can go right down the drain without it. For this first time all year, that appears to be where things could be headed.
After scoring just nine points in the first 15 minutes of the game, there was only one way to describe the start, and Archie Miller didn’t hold back.
“Offensively we were just horrendous in the first half.”
For what seems like the first time this year, IU had a bad shooting night from two-point range. Couple that with recurring issues like poor three-point shooting, free throw shooting and assist totals, and you have the recipe for this offensive disaster.
Credit Nebraska’s defense in part. They did a good job of putting multiple defenders on Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan. That highlights a problem that has been around all year as Indiana has struggled to find reliable scoring options beyond its “big two.”
Nebraska also switched to a 1-3-1 zone which Indiana was aware of and prepared for — but didn’t attack well at all. Miller said this about that Husker zone:
“They play it almost every game, and if you’re not ready to handle it or you’re not able to be able to penetrate it or get it inside, you’re going to play around the perimeter. We were reluctant to attack the paint with the ball. We had a hard time feeding it inside the paint.”
The lack of consistency from this defense is mind boggling.
Indiana held Nebraska without a field goal for more than eight minutes towards the end of the first half to cut a 26-9 deficit down to 26-20. Then the Hoosiers proceeded to give up an open three-pointer and a dunk to close out the half as the lead swelled back to 31-22 at the break.
Too often Nebraska beat the Hoosiers in transition and were able to generate open shots from the perimter. And with Indiana trying to fight back in this game, Nebraska seemed to have an answer at what was for IU at the most inopportune times. Miller addressed that —
“Without off the top of my head going through the playlist, they did a great job of responding at a certain part of the second half from the three-point line. I thought Glenn Watson was as good as it gets tonight. He banged two big ones back-to-back; whether that was either inefficient offense or turnovers I’m not real sure, but he banged two big ones. And then Allen hit another one that was a back breaker that put it back over to double figures.”
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score and specialty stats
- Archie Miller and IU players post-game
- Tim Miles and Isaiah Roby post-game
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Juwan Morgan* (B-) If Morgan isn’t the one to bring an edge to this team, then who is? IU’s senior co-captain has to want it more. The burden of being a floor leader falls on him. It is isn’t entirely his fault, but it is unacceptable for Morgan to have just one free throw attempt in any game.
- Justin Smith* (D) Smith had a couple really nice blocks that will be lost in this one. His rebounding numbers had been improving, but he ended up with just two in 36 minutes, added four turnovers, and wasn’t as stout on defense as he has been.
- Romeo Langford* (B-) Nebraska threw everything and everyone at him, and it had an impact, with lower offensive efficiency and higher turnovers. Expect more of the same until someone else shows the ability to knock down perimeter shots.
- Al Durham* (D) Durham left the game with an undisclosed injury and played just six minutes. He appeared to take some kind of contact to his lower leg area. He was on the floor as Nebraska took over the game from the outset.
- Devonte Green* (D) Green continues to not turn the ball over, and strange as it may seem, that is the one thing that he is doing consistently. He continues to struggle from the field, and was less than sterling against yet another tough Big Ten point guard defensive assignment.
- Rob Phinisee (C) Phinisee was able to crank his minutes back up to 27 and should be at near full strength by the weekend. He wasn’t able to make a major impact here.
- Zach McRoberts (C-) The senior co-captain had his moments on the defensive end, but the lack of offense has gotten to the point of being subbed out for possessions late in games.
- De’Ron Davis (N/A) Call it a trial run. After Miller called it a mistake to play him against Maryland, Davis gave it another go on Monday — and he looked exactly the same as he continues to struggle with what is apparently an ankle injury.
- Evan Fitzner (D) Fitzner hasn’t hit a three point shot since the Central Arkansas game, and overall is just 2 for his last 12 long range shots since a 3-for-3 night at Duke. It will be interesting to see if he is able to hang onto his spot in the rotation.
- Clifton Moore (B+) Raise your hand if you had Moore as IU’s third leading scorer going into the game. It was an all around good effort from Moore, who demonstrated that he can be counted on for spot minutes in the Big Ten. He did get lost defensively on the big three-pointer that ended Nebraska’s first half drought.
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