Sunday, January 30, 2011

Indiana Basketball – Thrill Meets Agony Meets Hope

There are no moral victories. Not in this return-Indiana-basketball-to-glory quest. You either do, or do not.

The Hoosiers did not at Michigan State.

Still …

Hope comes amid pain.

Thrill comes with overtime defeat.

If you’re a Hoosier fan, if you bleed Cream ‘n Crimson, you are sad. You might have spent Sunday night screaming at the TV, hoping that your passion should shoot through the airwaves and somehow energize the team. You might find it hard to sleep until Minnesota comes to Assembly Hall Wednesday and Indiana gets to do it all over again. That’s okay. Why? Because you have reason to care again. The program is no longer spinning in mediocrity.

The 84-83 loss at the Breslin Center is proof of that.

You can win a lot of games with this kind of effort and focus and intensity. Indiana almost certainly will, if not this season, certainly in future ones.

Hope is a wonderful thing.

IU (11-11) did so many things well Sunday night. It shot well (55.2 percent in regulation), defended tenaciously, rebounded with purpose. It got production from its injury depleted bench.

It made just enough mistakes to lose. Or, depending on your perspective, the Spartans (13-8) made just enough plays to win.

Yes, we have seen this before in tough losses at Minnesota and at Wisconsin, among others, but this took it to another level. This was the most painful and exhausting. You could see if from the hunched-over expressions on players from both teams when it was finally over.

Still, you lose by one on the road in overtime while battling the demons generated by 20 years of Breslin Center futility and the now 0-9 record outside of Assembly Hall, and you’ve accomplished something.

Perspective would be different if this was, say, Ohio State, a veteran team with the kind of inside-outside talent and recent history of prime-time success champions are made of.

That’s not Indiana.

Not yet, anyway.

You look for improvement beyond the won-loss record. If the Hoosiers build on this defeat, learn from it, it becomes a benefit. You can always turn negatives into positives.

Yeah, that’s getting old. It’s much better to build from winning. Good teams are at their best in big moments. Struggling teams blink.

Indiana blinked.

Jeremiah Rivers missed a couple of late free throws that might have won it in regulation, but don’t blame this on him. He’s become an 88 percent free throw shooter, improving his percentage 30 points from the previous year. Who does that? He wasn’t the only Hoosier missing free throws. He made plenty of big plays along with his 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.

So did Christian Watford, who finished with 21 points and played through a banged up knee and hand. So did Jordan Hulls, who wasn’t supposed to be quick enough to handle elite Big Ten guards, but who has more than held his own. Against the Spartans, he had 17 points. Oh, he hasn’t missed a free throw since early December. So did Victor Oladipo, who came off the bench to go 5-for-5 and total 11 points. So did Matt Roth, who hit four three-pointers and totaled 12 points (four times his season average). So did Tom Pritchard, who had seven rebounds against the burly Spartans.

One final thought. Does any Big Ten team want to play Indiana right now, especially in Assembly Hall?

We think not.


  1. I liked our effort against the struggling spaties but we just fell short. I think the one thing that still haunts me is the Iowa game. I just keep thinking , how? why?? Keep improving Hoosiers and I agree with you....people might start coming to our house expecting a battle.

  2. Gotta wonder why Crean stayed with Rivers in OT when Oladipo would have presented a greater challenge for MSU. If it wasn't enough that he missed some key free throws at the end of regulation, it must have really hurt Rivers' feelings when MSU backed off of him in OT, daring him to shoot. Weird offensive sets in OT by IU also didn't help. Hoosiers clearly let one get away.