Saturday, February 5, 2011
Guarantee Falls Flat, Just Like the Hoosiers
Okay, we messed up. We let Crean 'n Crimson optimism get in the way of reality.
So much for guarantees and Indiana basketball.
So much for opportunity.
Indiana blew a big, big chance. Postseason prospects might have gone along with the lost victory against Iowa.
Yeah, Saturday’s 64-63 loss to Iowa hurt that much.
Remember the euphoria that followed the Assembly Hall victories over Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota? Those were replaced by glum faces on fans not quite sure that what they had seen had really happened.
It was like going to dinner with your significant other expecting an engagement announcement and find out that other was marrying your best friend.
It was a joke, right? A mistake.
Then you looked at the Assembly Hall scoreboard that did not lie:
Iowa 64, Indiana 63.
You looked at the record. The Hawkeyes are just 10-13 with two victories over the Hoosiers. On paper, at least, they are the weakest team IU will play until next non-conference season.
“Turnovers at end killed us,” guard Jordan Hull said. “To see it go away ...
“We never thought we would lose. We had that mindset. You have to have that mindset. Defense didn’t work out for us.”
We’ve heard this before about IU and defense, and while there were MAJOR inside breakdowns (Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe totaled 20 points and 13 rebounds) on Saturday, you could argue that the three turnovers down the stretch that the Hawkeyes converted into four points were the real back breakers. Oh, there was that offensive rebound Iowa got off a missed free throw that allowed it to score four points in one possession.
All that gave Iowa that one thing you never want to give a reeling opponent:
IU had everything it needed -- a 10-point second-half lead, momentum, a raucous Assembly Hall crowd, all sorts of end-of-season possibilities.
All it had to do was hold on.
That was asking too much.
Now comes Tuesday’s trip to No. 11 Purdue, which is unbeaten at home this season. IU is winless away from Assembly Hall.
“We haven’t even thought about that yet,” Hulls said.
For most of Saturday's game, it couldn’t have gone better. Check that. Yeah, the Hoosiers could have built a 20-point lead, but 10 should have been enough. They just needed to make a few more defensive stops, a few less turnovers, hit one end-of-game shot.
That, too, was asking too much.
Still, there were highlights. The Minnesota victory became the Tom Pritchard show. Now it was time for freshman Will Sheehey to have the game of his life. And for a while, he did. He had a career-high 12 points, including a monster dunk that showcased his passion and athleticism.
Another freshman, Oladipo, had 12 points in 20 minutes.
Hulls was a scoring machine with a career-high-matching 24 points, but his three turnovers against one assist hurt.
And if you forgot about back-up point guard Daniel Moore, well, so did the Hawkeyes when his steal off an in-bounds pass and assist to Derek Elston for a layup produced IU’s first and only double-digit lead mid-way through the second half.
It could have been a back-breaker.
It was not.
There was regression. Foul trouble limited Pritchard to no points, five rebounds and two turnovers in 26 minutes as a follow-up to his monster Minnesota performance. Verdell Jones went 1-for-9 from the field for two points. He did have five rebounds, two assists and no turnovers. But it was he, rather than Hulls, who took the last shot.
You might wonder why Hulls didn’t take the last shot. He was, after all, 10-for-17 from the field for those 24 points. Jones was struggling and wasn’t completely healthy from his inflamed knee that sidelined him for three games.
Coach Tom Crean twice called a timeout to set up a potential winning play with Iowa clinging to that 64-63 lead and 13 seconds left. The first might have worked, but the Hoosiers were too slow running it. Afraid they wouldn’t get a good shot, Crean called a second timeout and designed another play full of options depending on Iowa’s defense. It could have gone to Hulls off a screen or Jones off a ballscreen or Sheehey posting up or Oladipo on the baseline.
Why not set up a play specifically for Hulls? Because that’s not the way Crean does things, either on last plays or in his overall offensive and defensive strategy. He likes options and variety.
“I don’t really get caught up in this guy has to have it at the end,” he said.
Hulls was the last Hoosier Iowa wanted to get the ball, and they defended that last play (with man defense) accordingly. And the way it worked out, Jones got the ball with five seconds left and took an open jumper from 15 feet. It was a very makeable shot.
Really, that's all a coach can do in that situation. His job is to give his players a good shot. Their job is to make it. Would Hulls have made it if he had taken the last shot?
We'll never know. Here's what we do know -- Jones missed. Oladipo tipped the rebound. It missed.
So IU falls to 12-12. The defeat is a huge blow to its postseason hopes. It travels to Purdue on Tuesday and Michigan on Saturday without momentum. It is so beat up Crean said he's unable to have a full-bore practice because there aren’t enough healthy bodies. That’s not likely to change soon. Forward Christian Watford and his busted hand might be ready for Michigan, Crean said, but more than likely it will be the week after that.
It seems grim. It IS grim, but it is not hopeless.
“It’s definitely very frustrating,” Oladipo said. “We’ve got to bounce back. If we play defense every game, we’ll be fine.”
We’ll see how fine they are on Tuesday.