In the first half of a 60-55 loss to Nebraska, Indiana's defense held the Cornhuskers to the lowest point total in half the Hoosiers have given up all season. After jumping out to a 7-2 lead, Nebraska stalled on defense, suffering two scoreless streaks that lasted over five minutes each.
The Hoosiers led by as many as 16 in the game's first 20 minutes, once doubling up the Cornhuskers 32-16 before heading into the locker room up 32-19. In two consecutive halves of basketball, IU had given up just 39 points, including just 22 in the second half against a 56-46 win against Illinois last Sunday.
No Cornhusker had scored more than five points or made more than two shots, including the team's leading scorer, sophomore forward Terran Petteway, who had been averaging over 18 points per game this season.
But the second half was starkly different. IU gave up more points than they did in the team's previous 40 minutes of basketball, getting outscored by 18 points to the conference's third-worst scoring offense.
"There's a certain way that they want to play, and in the first half, we did a pretty good job of taking that away," IU head coach Tom Crean said. "In the second half, we allowed them to get comfortable on the perimeter.
"When you have shooters like they have…they made some big shots, and we just weren't aware."
Nebraska scored more than double the points they did in the first half, a 22-point improvement that was the biggest the IU defense has allowed this season, edging the 17-point improvement the Hoosiers allowed in the team's second loss to Michigan State this season. Petteway scored 13 points in the second half as the Cornhuskers stormed back, and Nebraska ended up with four players with double-digit scoring numbers, to IU's three.
Sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell said after the game that he was very disappointed in his team's defensive effort right from the get-go in the second half.
"I feel like guys on our team, they don't take pride in defense," Ferrell said. "We took pride in the first half, but in the second half, we had a letdown. If we don't take pride in our defense for the whole game, we won't win games."
Hoosiers, Vonleh struggle in the paint
For the second game in a row, Noah Vonleh struggled to find an offensive rhythm, taking just five shots and contributing seven points in IU's loss. In total, Vonleh has been held to single digits seven times this season, where the Hoosiers have gone 3-4.
In the four losses – against ranked Connecticut, Notre Dame and Michigan State teams as well as Nebraska – the Hoosiers were right in the thick of things through at least the first half, and three of them they lost by a total of 13 points. Vonleh scored 15 points combined in those games, including being shutout in a one-point loss to UConn at Madison Square Garden.
Crean said earlier in the season that the Hoosiers needed to focus more on getting the ball to Vonleh, similarly to how his teams the past two seasons struggled at times to feed Cody Zeller.
But lately, Crean has turned the blame over to his young big man, who only recently turned 18, saying he has to be more of a vocal leader on the court and demand the ball inside in order to take over games.
"He (Vonleh) wasn't as empathic and decisive with the ball as he needed to be," Crean said. "He got the ball, but it just is one of those nights.
"We got the ball inside, but we didn't get enough done with it. We got the ball inside, but we didn't get enough production out of it."
Crean continues to struggle against bottom of conference
Since taking over as the IU head coach in 2008, Crean has struggled against the teams that consistently make up the bottom of the Big Ten standings, including Nebraska since the team joined the conference in 2011.
Crean's squad is just 1-2 against the Cornhuskers since they joined the Big Ten, with their other loss coming in their first meeting as Big Ten foes in a 70-69 loss in Lincoln, Neb. in 2012.
Combined against Penn State, Northwestern and Nebraska, the Hoosiers are just 11-13 since the 2008-09 season. Four of those wins came last season as IU went undefeated against all three squads, but the team is 1-3 against them in the Big Ten Tournament since Crean took over.
The Hoosiers play all three teams once more this season, with IU's rematch against Nebraska coming on Senior Night at Assembly Hall.