IU's slim margin for error bites again

The Hoosiers didn't make as many shots against Purdue on Thursday, and they left feeling blue as a result. A column from Justin Albers.

Yogi Ferrell hurried up the floor, eager to erase a late two-point deficit against rival Purdue. He'd buried a pull-up 3-pointer from the top of the key only moments earlier to put Indiana ahead and whipped the Assembly Hall crowd into a frenzy.

Time remained, but Ferrell didn't care. He crossed half court and approached the 3-point line, but before he reached it, he rose up for a deep 3 that would have given the Hoosiers the lead.

A hush came over Assembly Hall. The crowd waited on edge, ready to explode when the shot went in.

Only, it didn't. Ferrell's shot fell short, Purdue rebounded, and IU had been swept by its hated rival.

Purdue 67, Indiana 63.

The margin for error is slim for an undersized Indiana team, especially when perimeter shots aren't falling. Ferrell tried to save the Hoosiers twice in a span of eight days, but both times his final shot was just off, and Indiana lost. Neither game should have come down to a last shot, but the Hoosiers shot poorly in both games and allowed too many easy baskets.

Such is the life of Indiana basketball this season.

"Unfortunately for us, the shots we made the other night and the shots we've been making, they didn't go," Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterward. "We could have played a little better, but bottom line, a couple of those shots go down, it's a different story for us."

I didn't think the Hoosiers (18-9, 8-6 Big Ten) played poorly on Thursday night. I didn't think they played great, but I didn't think they played poorly.

The Boilermakers are a much better team than they get credit for, and they are the worst possible matchup for Indiana in the Big Ten. They have a 7-foot scorer on the court at all times, and the Hoosiers have less size than almost every team in the country.

There aren't many 7-footers in the country that are a consistent threat to score. Post players are a lost art in basketball. Think about it: Other than Purdue's A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, there's only Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky in the Big Ten. You could maybe throw Northwestern's Alex Olah in there, but the list ends there.

That's why Indiana has gotten away with its lack of size more often than not this year. Ohio State didn't have a scoring big man. Neither did Michigan. Or Minnesota. Or Illinois. In the majority of those situations, Indiana's opponents opted to play small and match IU, thus forcing them to change how they regularly play.

Purdue is going to throw the ball in the post whether you have a big front line or not. When you have the front line the Hoosiers have, disaster can strike.

Stanford Robinson did an admirable job fronting the big men and making it hard for them to catch it in the first half, but that only works for so long. Robinson is 6-foot-4 on a good day. Even Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Indiana's most experienced big man, gives up at least three inches to both Hammons and Haas.

Purdue outrebounded Indiana 38-21 and had 14 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds.

"You can't defend Indiana on walk-throughs and watching film," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "It costs you some baskets during the game because you try your best in practice to play like that and you can't. Just like they try to simulate the size that we have, and they can't do that in practice."

Indiana's only chance was to create turnovers or speed Purdue up so it could get out in transition where the Hoosiers are at their best. At times, they were successful in doing that. But for the most part, the game was played at Purdue's pace, forcing IU to play in the half court against Purdue's defense. That made things difficult for Indiana because the Boilers could overplay perimeter players with the knowledge that they had a shot blocker behind them capable of cleaning things up.

"I think we slowed it down. I don't know if it was them as much as we did," Crean said. "We weren't moving the ball as quick as we needed to there. It seemed like we were sitting in that 23 [point] range for awhile. We were trying to create contact. We were trying to get them moving rather than just do what we do. We complicate our own matters. When we're playing a simple game of drive, kick, play the corners, cut, move -- we're pretty good. When we don't do that, we make it harder."

And thus, the slim margin of error. When Indiana can't play fast and isn't making 3s -- it shot 5-of-16 from beyond the arc on Thursday -- we end up with situations like this one. Make a tough shot, you win the game and cover up a multitude of mistakes. Miss the shot, and those mistakes become magnified.

The Hoosiers made 18 3-pointers against Minnesota on Sunday. They won the game by 19 points, despite turning the ball over 18 times. Making shots made up for their other sins.

Against Purdue, many of those same shots didn't go. As a result, IU's shortcomings became the bigger story.

"I felt like we played them at the right time," Painter said. "We played BYU in Maui and they hit 20 3s the game before us. And then the next game, they didn't make as many. It didn't come as easy for them. And BYU is really talented. I felt that way about Indiana. I felt like it was perfect that they hit 18 3s against Minnesota because you just don't normally have that kind of game back-to-back."

Indiana is a good team and will likely make the NCAA Tournament. But Purdue, despite a non-conference season that saw the Boilers lose to North Florida and Gardner-Webb, is a dangerous team. The Boilers have talented bigs, capable shooters, and they play great defense. They'll be a tough out if they get in the Big Dance.

Indiana fans don't want to hear it, but Purdue is simply the better team this year. And a terrible matchup for IU.

Peegs.com Top Stories