Indiana's improving basketball team finally demonstrated against Illinois and Minnesota that it can win close games and then it was showed against Iowa that it still has some lessons to learn.
The Hoosiers, in the midst of a seven-game stretch that they've generally played with a high level of intensity and greatly improved defense, have been outhustled and outmuscled twice by the Hawkeyes.
Some of the numbers from Saturday's loss to the Hawkeyes point out that IU's players most capable of contributing inside after the loss of Christian Watford didn't get it done, as Iowa outscored IU 34-18 in the paint and outrebounded the Hoosiers 33-25. Tom Pritchard didn't score in 26 minutes of play. Will Sheehey had one rebound in 26 minutes. Victor Oladipo had two rebounds in 20 minutes. Derek Elston had one rebound in 15 minutes.
After the game, Coach Tom Crean said the two freshmen, Sheehey and Oladipo, did the best job of defense in post, even though they aren't used to defending in the post. In the two wins against IU, Iowa's 6-7, 250-pound freshman Melsahn Basabe is averaging 20 points and 11.5 points, while hitting 13 of 20 field goal attempts.
"He dominated us," Crean said Saturday.
After holding its previous three opponents, Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota to a combined 37.4 percent, Indiana allowed Iowa to shoot 47.7 percent, including 54.5 percent after halftime. That is how the Hoosiers lost this game.
It wouldn't have been my choice to have Verdell Jones with the ball at the end of the game, but Jones did a get a good shot given the circumstances and IU should have put the game away before it got to that point anyway.
"We didn't execute execute down the stretch on defense and that's what fuels us," Oladipo said. "We've got to bounce back from this one. We have to get back to playing the way we have been playing."
Despite all of that, the big picture for the Hoosiers is that they are continuing to improve without their leading scorer sidelined with a broken hand. Their performances continue to bring new hope and renewed interest from their fans.
In playing a hard-fought game against this improving Iowa squad, Sheehey and Oladipo each scored 12 points without making a single turnover. These spectacularly athletic freshmen need to continue to play bigger roles as the season progresses.
Jordan Hulls, particularly in the first half against Iowa, showed again what a force he can be when he's aggressive in shooting the ball. In just his second season at IU, he looks like a future All-Big Ten player. The challenge for Hulls, right now, is achieving consistency in his offensive and defensive play with so much attention on him because of the loss of Watford and Maurice Creek.
With their next two games at Purdue and at Michigan, the immediate challenge for Hoosiers (12-12, 3-8) as a whole is to take another step toward becoming a good team by winning a Big Ten road game. IU is the only Big Ten team not to win a road game so far this season. The Hoosiers are 12-3 at home, 0-7 on the road and 0-2 at neutral sites.
The Purdue game is at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The 10th-ranked Boilermakers (18-5, 7-3) will be playing for the first time in a week since losing at Wisconsin, 66-59.
Michigan (14-10, 4-7), after enduring a six-game losing streak, has bounced back to win three of its last four, including a 65-62 win at Penn State Sunday. IU will face the Wolverines at 4 p.m. Saturday.
IU's Hulls said the Hoosiers will rebound in the games ahead.
"We have to play tough every minute for 40 minutes," Hulls said. "It comes down to defense and rebounding. You've got to win that battle. We'll practice and get better at that."
IU hopes to rebound on the road this week
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