It was yet another loss for Indiana today, but this one was a little different. This Hoosier team looked spent this afternoon, falling again to Michigan, 75-63.
This was not the effort witnessed by Indiana in losses Thursday to Purdue and last weekend at Wisconsin. Those are the Big Ten’s best and the Hoosiers fought to the end. No moral victory by any means and not always good basketball, but the passion to win was evident.
Did those fruitless efforts and the totality of the season just finally catch up with Indiana? This was as quiet a game as many have probably witnessed at Assembly Hall, at least when a quality opponent was in the building. There just wasn’t much to cheer about as Michigan led from start to finish against the tired looking Hoosiers.
With it the Wolverines earned just their second win in the building since the 1994-95 season and evened up their league record at 6-6 (16-9 overall).
Indiana drops to 15-11 and 5-7 in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are staring now at the NIT and even that is even in question with four of five on the road to finish the regular season.
There were the usual reasons. Defense was inconsistent and Michigan owned a commanding 20-6 edge in points off turnovers.
What was different today was woeful 3-point shooting. Indiana missed all nine of shots from that distance in the first half to dig the grave it could never recover from in the final stanza. Junior starting guards James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson couldn’t get going at all in this one. Both went scoreless in the first half. Blackmon Jr. didn’t get into the scorebook till 13:38 was left and Johnson finally hit a trey with 10:57 remaining that briefly gave Indiana hope, cutting it to a 48-40 deficit. But eight points down was the best that Indiana could rally from that point and IU watched Michigan senior Derrick Walton (game high 25 points) control this game throughout, especially down the stretch.
Tom Crean was searching for answers in the postgame press conference.
“Maybe my shooters are feeling too much pressure. I'm not sure it was the Michigan defense. Maybe it was. I'm sure they'll credit themselves for it,” Crean said.
“Bottom line is we're not making enough shots to win. We're not making enough jump shots. We didn't make enough jump shots the other night. And right now we're not turning that around and getting enough to stops.”
The shots really weren’t there for Indiana. The offensive movement simply didn’t create many good looks. Later the urgency ramped up some and a few decent looks were knocked down in the second half from the perimeter but that game had been won essentially at that point.
Scoring that did come was in the paint where De’Ron Davis flashed his terrific potential with a game high 13 points, just one shy of his career mark. Indiana owned a 42-30 edge in points in the paint.
That’s the easier way to score. Good perimeter looks require movement, passing, solid screening and that wasn’t what was happening and that’s why the crowd had trouble getting into the game.
Besides poor outside looks the lack of movement led to late possession risky drives that often added to Indiana’s 15 turnovers.
“All of a sudden we get it in and we stand like we've never played basketball before rather than cut, space, fill, go cut, fill in behind it, get a crowd on the backside, the things that we do, and we just can't -- Thomas Bryant is playing his tail off to become a leader of the team. And he needs a little more help,” Crean said.
Bryant is only a sophomore and should a 6-foot-10 center be taking half his shots from 3-point distance? Today he took four of his eight attempts from behind the line, missing each attempt, and turned it over three times.
In his defense, Bryant has been playing well offensively, scoring at least 23 points in three of the last four contests.
“I know it wasn't Thomas's night, but I feel for him a little bit because he's really, really -- really since -- who asked the question on OG Anunoby? When that happened and we knew he was out, he stepped it up,” Crean said.
Can Indiana find its will again? Or have the injuries and losses finally caught up with this team so much that there’s no more gas in the tank?
The answer will come on the road beginning Wednesday night at Minnesota.
“It's very easy to be locked in and connected to one another when the shots are going, but when they aren't going is when real leadership's got to emerge. And we're not having as much of that right now,” Crean said.