It was right at the moment that Indiana started to feel safe again that Michigan State figured out exactly what it had to do to break the Hoosiers.
Indiana had blown a 13-point lead before halftime, but the Hoosiers had gone back to pounding the ball inside and taking advantage of the fact that the Spartans had decided not to double-team Trayce Jackson-Davis and built themselves a cushion. They went up nine when Jackson-Davis dunked and drew a foul off a pretty wrap-around pass from senior guard Aljami Durham with 12:59 to go in the game.
But on the next possession, Michigan State guard Aaron Henry got IU freshman Trey Galloway to bite on a shot fake, beat him to the middle of the paint and hit a floater over him. Then Henry grabbed a defensive rebound off a Jackson-Davis miss, pushed the ball up the floor and whipped a skip pass from the top of the key to the right corner where Gabe Brown was waiting alone. Khristian Lander rushed over to attempt a close out, but Brown buried the 3-pointer to cut the Spartans’ deficit to four.
And so began the collapse that might eventually knock Indiana out of the NCAA Tournament field and doom its 2020-21 season.
Starting with that bucket by Henry, the Spartans scored 39 points in the game’s final 12 minutes and 33 seconds after scoring 39 in the 27:27 before that. With a 52-point second half that doubled their first half output, they closed out a 78-71 win over Indiana at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall with stunning ease considering the size of the lead the Hoosiers built in the first half and early in the second.
After making just two of their first 10 shots and five of their first 17 in a turnover-ridden first half, the Spartans hit on 17 of their 30 field goal attempts, five of their nine 3-point attempts and 13 of their 15 free throws in the second half, posting a sizzling 1.486 points per possession after the break. The Hoosiers shot 55.6 percent from the field themselves in the second half and still got their doors blown off, outscored 52-41.
“I really look at the second half as being a complete bust on defense,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “Very disappointing there to give up 52 after you only gave up 26 in the first half.”
It was a bust because the Hoosiers’ defense broke down on a number of plays similarly to how they did on the two plays that started the run.
Indiana had no answer for Henry at any point. Earlier in the game, he was the only thing that kept Michigan State within striking distance and later in the game he closed the Hoosiers out. They couldn’t keep him from getting into the lane off the dribble no matter who was guarding him.
“Down the stretch Aaron Henry really took over the game for them,” Jackson-Davis said. “He put them on his back. He was making tough shots after tough shots. Our defense wasn’t holding up.”
The 6-foot-6, 210-pounder from Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis scored 27 points on 9 of 17 shooting and he was 8 of 9 from the free throw line. Eight of his nine field goals came in the point with the only one outside of it being a 3-pointer.
Four of his field goals and all of his free throws came in the second half for 16 points after the break. All four of his buckets came in the paint off the dribble and they came against four different Indiana defenders — guards Armaan Franklin, Rob Phinisee and Trey Galloway and forward Jerome Hunter. The fouls also came in large part because he was getting to the rim. Nobody could stop him.
“Aaron Henry is a tough matchup,” Miller said. “They isolated him a lot in the post or they iso’d him just on the perimeter. We didn’t have a real good matchup for him. He jumped over top of us, played bigger. We didn’t have the floor tight enough.”
And Henry wasn’t the only one to cause havoc off the bounce. The Spartans scored 22 of their 40 points in the paint in the second half and just three of those 11 field goals came from big men. Senior guard Josh Langford scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and two of his four buckets came off the dribble drive. A third came off a drive and dish by sophomore guard Rocket Watts.
The fourth, though was a 3-pointer that looked a lot like the one Brown hit. Langford too was standing in the corner by himself when he caught a skip pass with 10:39 left from point guard A.J. Hoggard and drained it.
That was one of five 3-pointers the Spartans it in the second half. Four of them were either in the corners or far out on the wing when the Hoosiers were scrambling to recover in rotation either because of skip passes or dribble drives. Brown hit two of those in the second half and hit four in the game for 14 points.
Jackson-Davis said those happened because the Hoosiers were out of position in Indiana’s packline defense and found themselves having to run to far in to help on dribble drives and then too far back out to contest shots.
“With our defense, we’re supposed to be in the gap already,” Jackson-Davis said. “We’re not supposed to run into the gap. We were running into the gap and that was allowing them to dish it to the corners and we’d have to run back out for 3s. So that really killed us. Gabe Brown hit a few. Josh Langford hit one, I think. That really kills you, especially when you have the lead, you’re up nine, you have a chance to put them away and then that happens.”
The collapse is a devastating one, because the Hoosiers took dominating control early and because the loss will be so costly when their case is presented to the NCAA Tournament committee.
The Hoosiers knew they had an advantage inside on the Spartans for once and they exploited it. Jackson-Davis posted a career high 34 points on 11 of 18 shooting and drew 13 personal fouls, making 12 of 16 free throws. Redshirt junior Race Thompson also took advantage of uncharacteristically weak Michigan State post defense with 15 points on 7 of 11 shooting and also picked up six rebounds and a remarkable seven steals.
But unlike Michigan State, the Hoosiers didn’t get much of anything from their perimeter players to supplement that. Franklin scored 13 points on 5 of 9 shooting with three 3-pointers on six attempts. Sophomore wing Jerome Hunter had a first-half 3-pointer and a late game layup to finish with five points. No one else on the roster had a field goal and outside of Franklin, the team was 1 of 13 from 3. Starting guards Durham and Phinisee were a combined 0 of 10 from the field with four points, though they did have seven assists.
The defensive breakdowns and the lack of perimeter production led to a massive wasted opportunity, one that will haunt the Hoosiers on Selection Sunday. They fell to 12-10 overall, 7-8 in the Big Ten, and their No. 42 NET ranking is certain to crash. The Spartans usually the class of the conference, are 11-9 overall, 5-9 in the Big Ten and were carrying a No. 90 NET ranking into the game.
The Hoosiers were on the right side of the bubble going into Saturday’s game, but they’ll likely be on the wrong side by Monday morning with just four games left on the regular season schedule.
“We did not control either end in the second half,” Miller said, “and it is a hard one to take.”
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