Indiana's season slipping away

The Hoosiers have dropped back-to-back games after upsetting No. 10 Michigan at home. The latest was by far the most disappointing.

It's hard to explain this one away. Indiana led by 11 with three minutes to go, against Penn State, at home.

And lost.

It was a game the Hoosiers absolutely had to win, and they collapsed down the stretch.

Even after a mini-Penn State run, when it had cut the Indiana lead to two with 1:07 to go, the Hoosiers were still in the driver's seat. After Austin Etherington drew a charge with 16 seconds to go, IU has to win that game.

Consider the situation: Up two with the ball and 16 seconds to play. Inbound the ball, make free throws, and the game is over. It'd be an ugly win, but it'd be a win.

Instead, the Hoosiers did the unfathomable, failed to inbound the ball two times in a row, and gave the game the Penn State. Handed it to Patrick Chambers and Co. on a platter.

Penn State 66, Indiana 65. And the Hoosiers' NCAA Tournament hopes are on life support.

"We panicked," senior forward Will Sheehey said. "We didn't stay true to our scouting report."

Added Indiana coach Tom Crean: "The turnovers, there's no excuse."

Things started to unravel for the Hoosiers with 2:06 remaining when Jeremy Hollowell failed to get the ball inbounds and was called for a five-second violation. Indiana had four timeouts remaining, and led by seven at the time.

That's just one of the many inexcusable mistakes made by the Hoosiers down the stretch.

"That's a lack of awareness. You have to call a timeout when you take the ball out there," Crean said. "I would say panic. I would say guys not rolling back. Your'e going to be held. You've got to play through it.

"The bottom line is you've got to make a basketball play. You've got to make a play. The press offense, you just roll back and screen and roll back. Use the baseline, pass fake, have the awareness, okay? When you can't get it in, call the timeout sitting right there."

There were many times throughout the game where I thought to myself: Indiana needs to put this game away, and now. The Hoosiers had so many chances to do so, and they never did.

They started 19-of-29 from the field, better than 65 percent, and still never led by more than 13 points. Take care of the ball, and Indiana is easily ahead by 20, maybe more. Take Penn State's spirit away. It never did.

"We never took their belief away from them in this game because we made too many mistakes along the way that allowed them to stay in it," Crean said.

It's hard to know where the Hoosiers go from here. Clearly, they are capable of competing with every team in the Big Ten. They've proven that throughout the year. What they've failed to show is the ability to have maturity and put teams away with big leads late. They've failed to close, time and again.

At Illinois. Vs. Northwestern. At Nebraska. At Minnesota. Vs. Penn State. All games Indiana could have easily won, and all games it eventually lost. Win four of those five, and the Hoosiers are 8-3 in the conference and probably ranked. It's not that much of a stretch, it's a matter of holding leads and closing teams.

"I keep going back to the word awareness, and that's the nicest word I can use," Crean said. "We'll get back at it. Anybody can beat anybody in this league. We've done it, they've done it. Anybody can do it."

Instead, Indiana is 14-10, 4-7 in the conference, and at the low point of a very up-and-down season. The only question now is: How will the Hoosiers respond Saturday at Purdue?


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