WHAT LOOKED GOOD: Indiana seemed to be able to get to the rim sufficiently Saturday against Purdue. The problem was the Hoosiers couldn't finish shots when they got there. And it was contagious. There wasn't just one player having this problem but everyone. But the IU staff counted 12 missed layups for the Hoosiers. In an 18-point loss, if you can get half of those layups to fall it could be a different game. Indiana played well early in the game but then seemed to hit a wall. With 7:48 to play, IU was 8-of-16 from the field. The rest of the game, the Hoosiers were 11-of-43. IU had some early 3-ponit success, too. Noah Vonleh made the first shot of the game from beyond the arc. Moments later Will Sheehey knocked one down, too. IU opened up hitting four of its first nine 3-pointers. Then the Hoosiers went 4-of-14 to close the game. Once again IU's problems were with a high level of inconsistency. Indiana turned it over seven times in the first six plus minutes but then only had eight more for the final 33. Eight is still too many (and 15 total) but the silly, unforced errors that Indiana was making early in the game were not as prevalent later.
WHAT NEEDS TO IMPROVE:With Indiana already thin up front the one thing IU couldn't afford to have happen Saturday was for Vonleh to get into early foul trouble. In the past whenever Vonleh has picked up his second foul he has pretty much been done for the rest of that half. Saturday, he picked up his first on a reaching foul that he simply can't make. That came with 17:09 to play in the half. His second foul came with 13:15 to play in the half when he went over the back of a Purdue defender in perhaps the easiest call of the day. Well, actually an even easier one came when Tom Crean opted to put him back in the game with 8:33 to play. With 6:09 remaining, Vonleh went for a shot fake, got caught in the air, and fouled on the way down to pick up his third. That meant Vonleh was limited to nine first-half minutes. Again, with such a small margin of error, the Hoosiers simply cannot have Vonleh sitting for that long of a period of time. The missed layups really hurt this team more than anything Saturday. When you're trying to stop the other team from extending a lead you need to hit a few shots. IU hit a shot with 2:33 to play in the first half, a driving shot to the basket by walk-on forward Jeff Howard. But then Indiana didn't make another field goal until Yogi Ferrell hit a 3 with 13:05 to play in the game. That was a span of 9 minutes and 28 seconds without a field goal. It's tough to win anywhere, especially in the Big Ten, with those kinds of results.
FOR STARTERS:The familiar starting lineup of Noah Vonleh, Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey started for the sixth game in a row. Unfortunately two of the starters, Williams and Robinson, combined to score two points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field. The starters collectively scored 53 of IU's 64 points but the bulk of that was the 27 scored by Ferrell. The starters combined to hit 14-of-42 shots from the field and 8-of-20 from 3-point range. From the line they were 17-of-21. Ferrell made his first 11 foul shots before missing his final two. The starters got just less than half of the rebounds (17 of 35) and were responsible for 13 of the 14 turnovers.
SHEEHEY TOPS THE 1,000-POINT SCORING MARK: Sheehey only needed one point to become the 47th player in IU history to crack the 1,000 point club. With 10 points Saturday, he now has 1,009 which moved him into 46th place all-time just ahead of Jared Jeffries. Jeffries scored 1,008 in two seasons for Indiana.
INDIVIDUAL OBSERVATIONS: Here's a look at my own thoughts on a few Indiana players from Tuesday's loss to Illinois:
1. NOAH VONLEH: Vonleh brings so many things to the game but he just cannot allow himself to get into the foul trouble he found Saturday against Purdue. His first foul was just a reach that he didn't need to make. The second one he went over the back in the lane after a long shot from the perimeter. But he plowed over the top of two Purdue players for an easy call by the officials. His third one he got caught up in the air on a pump fake that in that situation he simply cannot go for. His fourth foul was a cheap one, again on a reach. I like it when Vonleh plays aggressive but he also needs to be smart about it, too. And with IU so limited in what it can do on the front line, it cannot afford to have its big freshman forward on the bench for prolonged periods of time. Vonleh was limited to 24 minutes against the Boilermakers. What IU really missed though was Vonleh's lack of aggressiveness on the glass which was a direct result of his foul trouble which kept him in check. But he only had six rebounds. This from a player who in six of the last seven games had tallied 12 rebounds or more.
2. Stanford ROBINSON: Indiana needs Robinson to be good at the things he does well. Play good defense without reaching, take the ball to the basket, finish at the rim, or if not, make a good pass to get someone else an easy shot. None of that occurred Saturday against Purdue. Robinson missed all seven of his shots from the field. Most were on drives but he also settled for a jumper or two. He also only had one rebound, two assists and three turnovers despite playing 24 minutes. Robinson needs to earn his starting minutes. Perhaps he's starting right now because there is not another viable option but IU needs the freshman guard to play at a much higher level to be successful.
JEFF HOWARD:I heard some grumblings today about how Jeff Howard has to be better on his point blank shots around the rim. He did have two shots that he should have made. One was on a driving layup and the other was off an offensive rebound that he must have rushed on the put back because he missed it. But he was also flying around and hustling. He missed a free throw and it caromed off toward the Purdue bench and somehow he got over there and kept the ball in play as he dove into the bench. He only played four minutes but he did get four rebounds. With Howard, I think it needs to be remembered that he is a senior walk-on and his effort against Purdue should be celebrated not scorned.
NEXT UP: Indiana (14-11, 4-8 Big Ten) will be out to snap a three-game losing streak when it plays host to Iowa Tuesday night at Assembly Hall. If the Hoosiers are going to keep their hopes alive for any postseason tournament, they need to start putting together a few wins over these final six games of the conference season. Iowa will be a huge test but Indiana has played well this year against the top teams in the conference in Assembly Hall.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch