A tough day only got tougher for the Indiana Hoosiers on Wednesday night. Hours after going public with a NCAA report that cited possible "major" violations by the IU basketball program, the Hoosiers suffered their most agonizing loss of the season against Wisconsin. The 68-66 loss was just IU's second in conference play and during the last two years at Assembly Hall.
"Sometimes basketball is a game of breaks," said embattled Coach Kelvin Sampson afterwards.
The biggest "break" of the night was one that the Hoosiers are quite familiar with—a clutch, and lucky, 3-point shot off the glass. Six days ago at Illinois it was Hoosier Eric Gordon staving off defeat with a long-range bank shot. On this night Badger Brian Butch sealed IU's fate with a copycat effort that came with just four seconds left to give Wisconsin a two-point win.
"It was some kind of hand-off, the ball was bobbled, Butch picked it up and when it left his hand I said that's going to hit high off the glass," said Sampson. "It hit the glass just right. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. It's a great break for Wisconsin and a tough break for us. Both teams played hard."
The Hoosiers had their chances to claim a big win in the Big Ten title race, but it was the Badgers that made all the plays that mattered down the stretch. After Gordon found D.J. White inside for a 10-foot jumper, the Hoosiers enjoyed a 64-63 lead with 44 seconds remaining on the clock. On the ensuing possession Wisconsin's Travon Hughes fell to the ground leading to a scrum for the ball and a jump ball situation with just 33 seconds left. The possession arrow pointed in Wisconsin's direction. Afterwards, Sampson said he thought that particular play was the turning point of the game.
"We probably need a break on (that) call, maybe not even a break," said Sampson. "It winds up being a tie-up and it could have been a travel. If it's a travel it's our ball and you go down with a lead and you have the ball and the lead."
Instead, Wisconsin inbounded the ball and quickly went to big man Marcus Landry. The 6-foot-7 forward drove the lane, missing his first lay-in, but putting back his own miss with 22 seconds remaining to give the Badgers at 65-64 lead. Gordon was then quickly fouled as he turned towards his basket just five seconds later putting IU in the bonus. The Indiana freshman calmly sank both free throws for a one-point lead with 17 seconds on the clock. It was last round-up time for the Badgers and they went with a familiar play that involved Landry and Butch exchanging the ball in the backcourt.
"That was one of the things the guy does off a drive across the top," said Ryan. "You have a staggered screen. ESPN had two of our options diagrammed, I wasn't going to tell Jay Bilas the other three or four. That was one of the (plays) he had on the whiteboard, that ball screen."
It worked to perfection this time as Landry found Butch on the pick and pop screen for an open three, one that banked in the basket.
"Everything was planned except for the bank," said Ryan.
After Butch's big shot the Hoosiers elected not to call one of their two remaining timeouts. They in-bounded the ball to guard JaMarcus Ellis, who sprinted down the sideline with the ball and then fired up a fairly open three-point shot from the wing as time expired. It clanged off the rim and over the backboard, opening the decision up to second-guessing afterwards. Ellis finished the night just 1-5 from the field, including 0-3 from behind the arc.
"The argument is if you do call a timeout it's a chance for them to get their defense set and get the right guys on the court, makes it a little bit tougher," said Sampson.
"I probably would have liked to see the ball in Eric or Armon's hands in that situation, but (Ellis) although he's not as good a shooter as those guys, he has a knack or reputation because we have seen him do it in practice and in games earlier in the season of hitting the big shot. So he had a clean look. If he scores the basket it's a good play."
Instead it was just another tough break on a day full of them for the Hoosiers. Despite another stellar performance from White (17 points on 7-10 shooting, eight rebounds, three blocks) and a 23-point effort from Gordon, the Hoosiers fell to 9-2 and third place in the conference. They have just three days before facing Michigan State, the conference's current fourth-place team, on Saturday at 9 p.m. in Assembly Hall.
Butch's Banker Beats IU, 68-66
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