Indiana bounced back from one of their worst defensive performances of the Tom Crean era with one of their best Thursday against Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. However, their gritty defense wasn't enough to sneak past the motivated Nittany Lions.
The Hoosier defense was great all night, but nowhere was it more impressive than during the last six minutes of regulation. After an official timeout with 6:22 remaining and IU trailing just 49-53, the Hoosiers would string together numerous defensive stops to hold the Nittany Lions without a field goal for the next five minutes.
Unfortunately, the Hoosiers would go just 2-6 from the field over that span with baskets by Verdell Jones
and Will Sheehey
sandwiching missed three-pointers by Matt Roth
, Jones, Sheehey, and Christian Watford
. If any of those threes go in then perhaps the last two minutes play out differently, but with the benefit of hindsight perhaps IU's lack of aggressiveness to get shots closer to the rim cost them here.
When It Was Over
found Watford inside with just 14.2 seconds left for an easy dunk that pulled the Hoosiers to within four points at 55-59. After the Hoosiers called a timeout, full court defensive pressure was employed but the Nittany Lions broke it with a long pass to David Jackson
for a breakaway dunk. That extended the Nittany Lion lead to six points with eight seconds remaining effectively ending the game.
Watford scored a team-high 15 points on 6-11 shooting and was the Hoosiers most consistent offensive threat on Thursday, but we're giving game honors to Victor Oladipo
. The freshman sparked the Hoosiers to life after Penn State had jumped out to 8-0 lead early and were threatening to run away with the game. His energy and effort brought IU out of their funk and helped propel them during key moments of the game. He would finish with eight points, a team-high six rebounds (three offensive), two steals, two assists, and one block in just 20 minutes of play.
Why They Lost
Indiana suffered a total defensive meltdown at Illinois in their last game and clearly came out in this one determined to set things right. Their defensive intensity was there throughout. They held star Talor Battle
to just 3-12 shooting on the night. However, there just wasn't enough offense on the night from the Hoosiers, especially down the stretch. In crunch time the Hoosiers not only couldn't find any easy buckets, but they struggled to score at all. They were forced to rely on tough outside shots, which spelled doom on a night they were just 4-18 from behind the arc.
The fact that the Hoosiers bounced back from arguably their worst defensive performance of the year with one of their best probably caught more than just the Nittany Lions off-guard. Senior Talor Battle, by all measures, was geared for a huge game as he was playing for the right to have a chance at his first NCAA tournament appearance. He's capable of taking over games single-handedly, but the Hoosiers defense smothered him all night. He's talented enough that he still found a way to come up with 13 points, but he did it on 3-12 shooting.
Most Promising Development
The simple fact that Indiana didn't lay down and let their season quietly end without a fight brings some measure of encouragement. The Hoosiers didn't make a big leap in 2011 as far as the rebuilding process goes with their 12-20 season, but perhaps the best thing that could be said about them is that they fought hard to the bitter end. Their defensive effort alone in this game showed that the team still had plenty of heart as their season winded to an end.
Most Concerning Development
Indiana's offensive slump to end the season was disheartening as several players seemed to either hit a wall or just plain wear down. Hulls, Watford, and Jones, the Hoosiers' main scoring engines, all struggled over the last quarter of the season as they just looked a step slower and had trouble finding the legs to hit jumpshots or finish at the rim. Meanwhile, freshmen contributors like Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo fought hard to the finish line of their first college season, but also showed clear signs of fatigue. Others struggled even more to finish the season. It showed most on the offensive end as IU failed to score 70 points in their last ten games, nine of which they lost.
Another year of hard sledding for the IU basketball program is in the books with the promise of better days ahead the only consolation. Whether the worm truly begins to turn next season remains to be seen. Coach Tom Crean hopes that next year's incoming freshmen will find a foundation in a team that doesn't just want to win, but knows how to win, despite not being a part of a great deal of it.
Still, the Hoosiers made some strides this year and if the leadership and overall team health is there next year then better days are ahead.