It was cliche before the game to call Sunday’s contest against Ohio State a “must win.” It would be equally cliche to say now after IU’s ninth loss in ten games that it “isn’t over until it’s over.”
But at least as far as the NCAA Tournament goes, it sure seems like IU’s hopes went down the drain in Bloomington on Sunday afternoon. There are simply no breaks in the schedule, and this Indiana team continues to show absolutely nothing that would lead you to believe that they have any kind of late season rally in them.
At this point, it would likely require winning six of their last seven Big Ten regular season games to reach the big dance. It isn’t over. The fat lady hasn’t sung. But she is in the dressing room, and she is warming up her voice.
After nearly a week off, the Hoosiers head back out on the road next weekend. Indiana (13-11, 4-9) returns to action on Saturday at Minnesota.
One thing that has plagued this team throughout the season has been slow starts to games. Against the Buckeyes, IU started both halves poorly and once again it put them in a position where they had to play from behind with a struggling offense.
The Buckeyes started the game on an 11-2 run, and after Indiana fought back to tie the game at 23 to open the second half, Ohio State stretched the lead back out to 34-25, forcing an Indiana timeout.
With IU working so hard to fight back in games, you have to wonder if fatigue impacts its execution in the closing minutes. IU head coach Archie Miller spoke about the late game struggles in this one, and specifically the inability to come up with rebounds and loose balls.
“Being able to finish the game comes down to execution. It comes down to getting quality shots, being able to do that, and then you’ve got to find a way to rebound the ball at times, as well, and that was a big deal in tonight’s game was just the rebound, the ability to rebound the ball. So many, five to seven, 50, 50 long, we have our hands on it and they take it from us, we have two guys go up for it, it goes out of bounds. Those are just back breakers.”
The offense was the main culprit to the slow starts to each half. Miller said this about those early struggles.
“To start the game, our offense was a problem. Just in terms of the way they decided to guard, the way they decided to guard was obviously put the big fella in the middle of the paint and clog it up as much as he could. They went under a ton of ball screens, and we couldn’t really get any rotation, get over the top, and our offense hurt us at that point in time.”
If that sounds familiar, it should.
From Purdue, to Michigan and just about everyone else along the way, clogging the paint and keeping everything in front of them has been the defensive game plan against IU. Ohio State executed that approach particularly well, and only four late three-pointers, two each from Devonte Green and Romeo Langford, made this one interesting down the stretch.
That particular defensive scheme turns IU into a dribbling team, with more individual play. Low assists counts have been a byproduct, and IU had just 11 on the day.
Holding an opponent to 55 points ought to be enough to win the vast majority of games at this level. At .917 points per possession and 15 forced turnovers, Indiana was solid. But much like the Iowa game, it wasn’t so much the overall defense, it was the defense at key moments.
The Indiana defense was strong for much of the game, but Indiana could never get a lead until very late due to the struggles on the other end. Miller indicated that “you’re not going to be able to just hold those guys down every single time,” and some of the OSU buckets seemed particularly untimely for IU.
When IU did have defensive breakdowns, it was primarily their inability to keep the ball out of the post. Both Andre and Kaleb Wesson did most of their damage there and OSU had 28 of their 55 points down low.
Unfortunately, the biggest breakdown came in the final minutes, as Andre Wesson was able to slip to the basket and the IU help side defense was too late to react, allowing the game-winner. Indiana has fallen victim to slips repeatedly over the last six weeks.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score and specialty stats
- Archie Miller and IU players post-game
- Chris Holtmann post-game
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Juwan Morgan* (C+) This was easily Morgan’s worst game on the offensive end, with a surprising 1 for 7 from the field and just 3 points. Conversely, he had a season best 14 rebounds. He struggled at times keeping Kaleb Wesson off the box, losing track of him a few times.
- Justin Smith* (D) Let’s face it, Smith is an enigma. After a great game against Michigan State, he has regressed. Once again, poor rebounding numbers and a limited repertoire on offense are the story lines here. Smith is pressing on offense and was beat routinely on the other end against Andre Wesson in a matchup that seemed favorable going into the game.
- Romeo Langford* (B) Langford seems to be gaining confidence with his perimeter shot, which is definitely a major plus. At the same time, his finishing at the rim seems to have taken a step back — but that is in large part because defenses are focused on taking it away. Langford surprisingly had just one rebound in this one.
- Rob Phinisee* (C) It feels like Phinisee needs to look for his shot more on offense, but at just 2 for 9 on the game, maybe that isn’t the case. He had a clean game with no turnovers, but he also had no assists. Phinisee did a respectable job on CJ Jackson when he had the assignment.
- Al Durham* (C) Durham just vanished in this one. He has provided sparks in several recent games, but there were long stretches where you might not have known he was in this game. In a contest where IU could have used some extra scoring punch, Durham was nowhere to be found.
- Devonte Green (B) Green stepped up and made plays in this game when no one else could beyond Langford. He still had some bad moments, but he was a factor on both ends and nearly led IU to victory.
- De’Ron Davis (B+) We’re starting the drum beat. Davis needs to be starting over Smith. He provides a body to bang with bigs down low which frees up Juwan Morgan. Davis can also get baskets when the offense is struggling early in games. It was another efficient game, and he continues to pass well out of the post.
- Evan Fitzner (B) Fitzner appeared briefly and knocked down another three-pointer. He’ll continue to get opportunities if he can knock down shots.
- Damezi Anderson also appeared in the game.
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