Indiana fought the good fight. More and more it does that. It plays with the effort and passion necessary to win. That it doesn’t execute well enough when it matters most remains a problem, but a solvable one. This isn’t quantum mechanics. Tom Crean and company can and will get it done. The signs are everywhere you look that the Hoosiers are building toward something special.
Yes, it was evident even in IU’s 67-53 loss at Purdue.
There’s bad news here. For the first time all season, Indiana has a losing record, at 12-13. You figure it won’t be the last time. Not with the grueling run the Hoosiers have coming up, starting with Saturday’s trip to Michigan. Not with the burden of a two-game losing streak and the uncertain healthy of standout forward Christian Watford.
Maybe he's back for Saturday's game at Michigan. More than likely, he won't.
But don’t let that diminish what the Hoosiers did in the very unfriendly to Cream ‘n Crimson confines of Mackey Arena.
Freshman Will Sheehey was more than ready for his rivalry game debut. He had a career-high 14 points, 12 in the second half when he carried the bulk of the Hoosiers’ offense on his slender shoulders. That was enough to impress Purdue coach Matt Painter.
“Athletes have something at the end,” Painter said. “Will Sheehey had something at the end.”
Remember when Jordan Hulls had the reputation of being too slow to hang with elite Big Ten guards? Guess what? The rep is wrong. Hulls was more than quick enough to deal with super-quick Boiler guard Lewis Jackson, plus big guard Kelsey Barlow. He had 13 points and also impressed Painter.
Painter made a big recruiting push to get Hulls when he was starring at Bloomington South. But Hulls chose the Hoosiers.
“We wanted to get him,” Painter said. “We recruited him for three years.”
Hulls doesn’t look like a Big Ten guard. He’s slender and small. He looks like he should be baking bread rather than breaking down defenses.
Do not be deceived.
“At first instinct he doesn’t pass the look test,” Painter said, “but he’s a winner. He’s a competitor. He makes those daggers.”
IU will need all the daggers it can get in the next month if it is to finish the season on a rush. That means playing unconventional, coach Tom Crean said.
“Every game is a different game plan when you have a team like ours,” he said. “We can’t just come out and run this on offense and play this on defense and everything will be all right. We have to mix. We have to do different things.
“I thought for most part we did that (against Purdue).”
What IU didn’t do was thrive at the end -- again. It was just 1-for-12 from the field in the last five minutes and missed its last nine shots.
“When the game is hanging in the balance that’s when you have to be your smartest,” Crean said. “You have to be at your toughest. You’ve got to communicate the best. That’s when your best basketball has to be played.”
At times, such as against Illinois and Minnesota, the Hoosiers did that. When that becomes the norm, look out.