This was supposed to be Indiana's chance to reintroduce itself to the country. A chance, on a national stage at the Maui Invitational, to prove that they're a team to fear.
But Indiana's dream trip to Maui began with a horrible nightmare on Monday night, and I'd bet there aren't many college basketball teams that are afraid of the Hoosiers right now.
They guarded no one, got outworked when it mattered, and blew an 8-point lead with less than five minutes remaining.
Wake Forest 82, No. 13 Indiana 78.
Just like that, Indiana is in the consolation bracket with the backing of such a large group of fans that the Civic Center sounded like Assembly Hall on Monday.
"We learned a hard lesson," said graduate transfer Max Bielfeldt. "It obviously wasn't something we planned for."
The very problems that kept Indiana from being a great team last year hurt the Hoosiers on Monday. They gave up 50 points in the first half -- more than in any game last year -- they completely collapsed down the stretch, and they were outrebounded 43-30. Wake (3-1) had 18 offensive rebounds, including three in a critical 79-second stretch in the closing minutes. In some instances, Wake Forest just ripped the ball away from Indiana (3-1).
Without a doubt, Wake Forest wanted it more.
"Wake Forest deserved to win because they played a better game for a longer period of time," Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterward. "It's hard to play anybody when you play 15, 16 solid minutes, and that's what we did. Highly disappointed in some of our effort, and disappointed in some of our toughness. Disappointed in myself and some of the substitutions. We'll go back and look at the film and make decisions from there."
Even after their terrible first half of defense, tough, the Hoosiers made several second-half runs and started to pull away. They led 75-67 with 4:30 to go.
Then, a meltdown.
- Wake Forest outscored Indiana 15-3 from that point.
- Wake scored on 8 of its 9 possesions from that point
- Wake scored 4 points on 3 offensive rebounds
- Indiana scored only 3 points on 1-5 FG and 1-3 FT
It was such a disaster, and had Indiana fans so enraged, that the hashtag #iubb was trending No. 1 nationally on Twitter in the minutes that followed the final buzzer. It wasn't simply that the Hoosiers lost, but the way in which they lost.
They allowed freshman guard Bryant Crawford to drive straight to the rim for layups on two consecutive possessions in the final 30 seconds. And when they got their final chance, they threw the inbounds pass away without getting off a shot after calling two timeouts.
Indiana scored only six points in the final 7:09.
"We let Bryant have too much room to penetrate," Crean said. "We did not guard him well on that last play, on the ball or even with the help."
Future Indiana opponents will put freshman Thomas Bryant in high ball screens repeatedly until he learns how to defend one. With the game tied at 78 late, Bryant failed to hedge a screen, and Crawford drove right to the rim for the game-winning score. Bryant is a great player and a huge piece for Indiana, but he has a far way to go on the defensive end. He got a look at an experienced, physical ACC big man in Devin Thomas (21 points, 8 rebounds), and he got dominated.
"I told him, 'Nobody can stop you in there,'" Crawford said of Thomas.
"They made the big plays, and we didn't guard Thomas the right way," Crean said. "Still waiting for one of our guys to remember that we're supposed to take away his left hand."
In the first half, Bryant gave up nine consecutive points to Dinos Mitoglou (18 points), a big man who floats out to the perimeter. Those will be valuable experiences for Bryant down the line, but Wake Forest really exposed him on the defensive end.
But for as poor as the defense was at times, Indiana would still have won the game -- and rather comfortably -- had it continued to play aggressively on offense. The Hoosiers got conservative, started dribbling for large portions of the shot clock, and ended up with low-percentage shots. It looked like the Indiana of last year, when Yogi Ferrell often tried to do it himself down the stretch in close games.
"We lost this game on offense as much as we lost this game on defense," Crean said.
Ferell missed a 3. Bielfeldt shot a bad airball from deep. Ferrell missed a contested jumper. Troy Williams missed a 3. James Blackmon missed a 3. Ferrell missed the front end of a 1-and-1. The list goes on.
"Again, just disappointed -- big time -- that we got away from what was working," Crean said. "We had momentum going at such a high rate. I think we hurt ourselves as much with halfcourt basketball offensively as they did defend us well at the end.
"They beat us at their strengths. For awhile we were taking away their strengths and playing to our strengths, and we got away from our strengths and let them get their strengths back. You can't do that against anyone."
It was beyond ugly, and while it's only one loss, this one hurts for the Hoosiers. Not only were they exposed defensively by a team picked to finish 11th in the ACC, but now they have to play in the consolation bracket for the next two days. That's significant because it will greatly hurt Indiana's overall strength of schedule in March. The Hoosiers expected to play top-20 Vanderbilt, and possibly No. 5 Kansas, too.
Now, it looks like this: Wake Forest (65th in KenPom), St. John's (173rd in KenPom), and UNLV (107th in KenPom) or Chaminade.
But that's looking way ahead. In the more immediate future, Crean is tasked with finding a way to refocus his young team and correct the many defensive and rebounding issues from Monday. Playing a terrible St. John's team should help with that.
But it will be dififcult for the Hoosiers to enjoy Paradise this week, especially when they realize the nightmare they experienced this evening was actually a cruel reality.