The afternoon began with promise, but that promise was quickly taken away by a dangerous Michigan State team. The Hoosiers (20-6, 10-3 Big Ten) were blown out in the second half and lost 88-69 in Eaast Lansing on Sunday. Here are 5 things you need to know from the game.
1. HOT START DOESN'T LAST: Indiana came out playing loose and free against the Spartans (21-5, 8-5), and the Hoosiers built a 10-point first half lead. Freshmen Thomas Bryant and O.G. Anunoby looked unfazed by the hostile road environment, and Max Bielfeldt played like a star. The Hoosiers were dominating Michigan State on the boards, something nobody ever does.
But that start proved to be fools gold when the Spartans roared back and took a one-point lead into halftime. The second half turned into a massacre as National Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine picked the Hoosiers apart with ease. Valentine had 30 points and a career-high 13 assists. He was 11-of-19 from the field and added 5 rebounds.
"The ball stopped moving as much as it did and as fast as it did, especially after they went on their run," said sophomore guard Robert Johnson. "We kinda got on our heels a little bit instead of keeping the ball moving and attacking."
Indiana was outscored 47-29 in the second half and shot just 10-of-31 from the field. After dominating the glass in the first half, Indiana managed only 13 total rebounds in the final stanza while Michigan State grabbed 22. Matt Costello had seven of those second-half boards, and finished with a career-high 22 points and 11 rebounds. The Spartans shot 63 percent (19-of-30) from the field in the second half.
"We let their best players be comfortable," Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterward. "Denzel and Matt were outstanding. They didn't need a lot of other guys today. We let those guys get to their strengths, and when you're playing a great team, you can't let them get to that. We did not defend the way we needed to, and we gave up way too many easy baskets."
2. TROY VS. OG: This will be among the hot-button issues this week in Indianapolis and around the state. Why does Troy Williams continue to play more than O.G. Anunoby despite the fact that Anunoby seems to consistently outplay his teammate? Talk show host Dan Dakich has already promised to discuss the issue on his show Monday afternoon, and I'm sure many more will follow suit.
Fans reached their tipping point on Sunday afternoon because of Williams' historically poor performance. The junior forward was scoreless in 20 minutes on 0-of-5 shooting with 4 rebounds and 2 turnovers. Williams was the only player on either team to finish with a negative efficiency rating (-1). For comparison, Valentine had the highest rating in the game at +40 and Max Bielfeldt led Indiana at +18.
"He's got to understand how to impact the game more when they're taking things away," Crean said. "The one thing that Troy is really good at is moving without the ball. I'll give Tom and his staff a lot of credit beause they didn't lose sight of him. There were a lot of times on film when guys would lose their man. They would ball watch a little bit. Obviously he's corrected that over the last couple days, and they never let Troy out of their sight.
"Troy didn't do a great job of impacting the game on the boards, he didn't do enough defensively. It's not about the jump shots. You've got to get loose balls, 50-50s, more rebounds, tip dunks when you're athletic like that. We didn't get enough of that. This has to be a learning experience for a guy like that. Usually the game is moving so well for us that he gets lost in the game. That's how he gets a lot of his cuts. It's not on him, we all lost the game, but he's got to be better."
Williams has never fared well against the Spartans, a team that takes away his baseline cuts and driving lanes and forces him to shoot from the perimeter or penetrate into traffic. In his last 3 games against Michigan State, Williams had a total of 4 points (1.3 ppg) and was 2-of-11 from the field. He was held scoreless in two of those three games.
"I think you gotta be positive with him," Bielfeldt said. "They took away what he wanted and he's got to be able to adjust and find his room where he can affect the game."
Anunoby, meanwhile, continues his rapid progression, and he has become a fan favorite. His ability to affect the game in a number of ways without making any mistakes is remarkable, and it has made him a viable candidate to replace Williams in the starting lineup should Tom Crean decide to make a change. Anunoby is always under control, he's a lockdown defender, and a much-improved offensive player. His posterization of Gavin Schilling and eurostep by Valentine gave fans a glimpse of what Anunoby's future at Indiana might look like.
Anunoby played three fewer minutes (17) than Williams, yet finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal and 0 turnovers. He had an efficiency rating of +9.
To me, it's clear: Anunoby is the more consistent option, and he should be moved into the starting lineup. Williams is far too inconsistent to play starter's minutes against elite teams on the road. When he plays like he did Sunday -- and it's usually clear in the first few minutes what kind of day he'll have -- Crean needs to sit him down.
Indiana could be a Final Four team if Williams ever learned to play only to his strengths. That is, cut along the baseline, attack the glass on both ends, and run hard in transition. That's it. He should not be handling the ball, initiating the offense, or attempting to create offense. He shouldn't be shooting 3-pointers. Williams is a very good player when he plays on the baseline and goes to the glass with reckless abandon, but he doesn't do it all the time. Given that he's nearly three years into his college career, it seems unlikely Williams will suddenly comprehend that which he has failed to realize to this point. But taking his starting spot away may be one of the only ways to get Williams to understand what he needs to do to play.
3. WHAT'S THE REASON FOR YOGI'S SHOOTING SLUMP?: Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell has been one of the best guards in the country all year, but he's hit a wall of late and hasn't been nearly as productive as he was a few weeks ago. Here's a look a the Big Ten splits to help further illustrate that point.
- First 8 Big Ten games: 20.3 ppg, 56-103 (54.4%), 25-45 3s (55.6%)
Last 5 games: 13.2 ppg, 16-53 (30.2%), 8-29 3s (27.6%)
So, to what can we attribute this shooting slump, and how concerned should Indiana fans be about it? I think the most likely -- and most obvious -- reason is Ferrell's a little worn down from playing heavy minutes. At this point in the college basketball season, everybody is dealing with a certain amount of soreness and fatigue. Ferrell has had to carry such a heavy load at times that it's understandable he would be a little tired.
"It's just a matter of trying to make too many things happen rather than continuing to move it," Crean said. "We had some other guys that weren't making plays. We didn't get enough impact from other players, some starters, some substitutes. When that's happening, it's gonna put more pressure on the people that have the ball the most.
"I'm not worried about his shooting, and I'm not worried about his minutes. We don't really talk about slumps. It's not a real issue. He's not in one. We're not going down the slump road."
Ferrell has played 34 or more minutes in 12 of Indiana's 13 Big Ten games, and he's played 218 minutes in the last 6 games (36.3 mpg). He also played 69 minutes in a 3-day span against Iowa and Michigan State. There's no rest for the weary, though, as Indiana has two more games between now and Saturday. After that, though, the Hoosiers will have several days off, which will be an important time for Ferrell to get much-needed rest. I wouldn't be overly concerned about Ferrell moving forward. He simply needs to bust down the wall and prepare for the final stretch.
4. BIELFELDT STARTS, STARS: Max Bielfeldt earned the start Sunday over Collin Hartman due to matchup concerns against the Spartans. Bielfeldt, a graduate transfer from Michigan, made the most of the opportunity and was, quite frankly, Indiana's best player against Michigan State.
"For awhile, he was the best player on the floor," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
Bielfeldt had 15 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes, and he was a big reason why the Hoosiers built their first-half lead.
"With me and Thomas starting at the 4 and 5, I had a little different role today," Bielfeldt said. "I figured if we could kind of stretch their bigs out, it would help Thomas' game inside. I figured if I could knock down some shots, it would stretch the defense and give Thomas a little bit more room."
Bielfeldt has improved drastically since arriving in Bloomington, and he's an essential piece to this team moving forward.
5. UPDATED LOOK AT THE B1G RACE: Indiana's loss on Sunday puts the Hoosiers at 10-3 in conference play, a half game behind Iowa for first place. The Hawkeyes play Sunday night against winless Minnesota, so Iowa is likely to have a one-game lead on both IU and Maryland heading into Monday. Indiana's home game against Nebraska on Wednesday is a must-win if IU hopes to stay in contention for a Big Ten title.
"Indiana's a really good team," Izzo said. "I'm not sticking up for Tom, I'm sticking up for Indiana. This game scared me more than most we've played because they do things that I thought was a bad matchup for us. They'll be a team to be reckoned with, and so will we."