BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana basketball fans took advantage of a chance to cheer the future. Because the present is offering them only limited opportunities.
The Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall scoreboard screens flashed the faces of 2019-20 Indiana basketball recruits Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin, seated behind the IU bench, at 3:54 of the first half Sunday.
The crowd responded with one of the best ovations of the day – another ultimately disappointing day as the Hoosiers lost, 55-52, to Ohio State.
It was Indiana’s fourth straight loss at home, and ninth in the past 10 games, overall.
And whatever waning hopes of securing a NCAA tournament berth persisted heading into Sunday for the Hoosiers are likely on life-support.
Some of the same bugaboos that have plagued the Hoosiers since December were in force Sunday. Such as:
Another bad start. IU fell behind 11-2 this time.
“We’re just flatfooted and we let the other team hit us first before hitting them, and then we’ve got to play catch up for the rest of the game,” Indiana freshman Romeo Langford said post-game. “It’s been a common theme throughout like the season.”
And then there was the continued bad shooting.
When Center Grove’s Jackson-Davis and Cathedral’s Franklin got their ovation, Indiana was shooting .316 from the field and trailing 21-14. IU finally warmed up a tad down the stretch, but too little and too late.
OSU entered the game ranked 29th nationally in defensive efficiency and that figure doubtless improved.
“To start the game, our offense was a problem,” IU coach Archie Miller acknowledged. “… The way they decided to guard was obviously put the big fella (6-foot-10 sophomore Kaleb Wesson) in the middle of the paint and clog it up.”
The bad shooting indeed led to related issues. Juwan Morgan – whose 14 rebounds attested to effort expended on his part – was held to 3 points, 13 below his average. He couldn’t get looks inside because Indiana posed no threat from outside.
OSU defenders were going underneath screens and leaving certain Hoosiers open on the perimeter, clogging lane to deny Morgan and take away Langford drives. There were seemingly three Buckeyes either in the paint or a just step away in help position on defense all day.
Indiana didn’t make them pay nearly often enough.
“Give them credit, they did a nice job, and we were – our team, in general during the game, needed to make some perimeter shots the way that they were playing,” Miller said. “You just needed to make a few. If you don’t make a few, obviously the game is going to kind of look like that.
“Once we made a couple, obviously the game changed pretty quickly, but that’s what needed to happen throughout the course of this game with the way that they played.”
Indeed, when the Hoosiers finally had a flurry – hitting three straight 3s from the 6:14 to 4:54 marks down the stretch – it gave IU a legitimate chance to win.
But that chance went begging as Ohio State executed off a key restart and Indiana didn’t.
IU had a timeout with the ball and the score knotted at 52-52 with 0:46 to play, but with a side-court inbounds and just seven seconds remaining on the shot-clock.
The Hoosiers worked action to get their two best scorers involved. They got the ball to Morgan at the top of the key with the option of either driving or sending a high-low pass to Langford, who was posting up in the paint.
But the guy defending Langford from behind was Kaleb Wesson. And when Morgan opted to pass, Wesson utilized his height and reach to come over top of Langford and deflect the ball away for a steal.
Ohio State then called timeout at 0:34.8. Buckeye coach Chris Holtmann set up a play for a slip-screen to Andre Wesson and the 6-6 junior got all the way to the rim, scoring over a rotating Langford, who contested the shot to no avail.
Then a Langford 3 rimmed out at the other end and a C.J. Jackson free throw provided the final margin as Devonte Green’s final look from 3 for IU never had much of a chance.
Indiana’s chances looked dubious from the get-go.
OSU hit five of its first six shots while Indiana was stagnant on the other end.
The first time the Hoosiers got decent movement, with an inside-out pass from De’Ron Davis back to the perimeter, it reversed the ball and created a good-rhythm look for Langford from 3. And Landford hit it, cutting OSU’s lead to 11-5 at the 13:53 mark.
Then defense briefly led to offense for IU as a Langford steal led to a tomahawk dunk and a Green steal led to a lefty layup to make it 11-9.
But the tone reverted to desultory for IU until late in the half. An Evan Fitzner 3 and Green free throws got the Hoosiers closer before Al Durham’s break layup off a Langford assist pulled them within 23-21 at intermission.
Morgan was scoreless at that point. OSU owned the boards, 20-12, and IU was shooting just .348 at halftime. How were the Hoosiers in it? It wasn’t half-court offense. It was defense. Ohio State had nine turnovers to IU’s five, and more than half of the Hoosier points (11) had come off Buckeye errors.
A Justin Smith steal and hustling follow shot started the second-half scoring to forge a 23-23 tie, but OSU quickly regained command.
Kaleb Wesson scored twice inside over the smaller Morgan and Buckeye freshman Luther Muhammad buried a 3 from the left baseline off an inside-out feed from Wesson, prompting a Miller timeout with 18:00 to play and Ohio State back up, 30-23.
Indiana stayed within striking distance, but simply didn’t score consistently enough to make much headway most of the second half.
Morgan finally tallied via a conventional 3-point play on an inbounds set at the 15:12 mark, but that would be it for him on the day.
Green and Smith subsequently air-balled consecutive open jumpers, Rob Phinisee just missed a break layup. Even by this team’s struggling standards, it was horrible shooting.
With 7:27 to play, Indiana trailed 44-38 and had hit just 2 of 14 shots from 3-point range (.143).
Then, almost like flipping a switch, things changed.
After Andre Wesson hit a deep 3 from the left wing to make it 47-38, Buckeyes, with 6:20 to play, Langford arose from the right wing to reply – and start Indiana’s brief flurry of 3s.
The second came from Green before Langford struck from the top of the key to forge a 47-47 tie with 4:54.
Andre Wesson responded with a tip-in but Phinisee then came up with a fine left-handed drive to make it 49-49.
A Phinisee steal then gave IU the chance to get its first and only lead of the day.
The Hoosiers had the ball sidecourt out with just 0:04 left on the shot clock. They got the ball into Green, who momentarily fumbled it, but recovered fast enough to swish a 3 that made it 52-49, IU, at the 1:46 mark.
C.J. Jackson – the same man whose big 3 led to Ohio State’s overtime win in Assembly Hall last season – then hit the shot of the day for the Buckeyes.
With the shot-clock winding down, Jackson was compelled to launch a contested 3 from downtown. Nothing but net.
“I mean, he made a heck of a shot on that one,” Miller said of Jackson. “I mean, that was from about 25.”
That led to the final sequence of restart opportunities in the final minute for both sides, with the game tied. Indiana’s didn’t work out. Ohio State’s did.
“We didn’t obviously finish the last 90 seconds well enough in the game to be able to hang in there and either get it to OT or win it in regulation,” Miller said. “But we fought hard. Our kids played hard in a very physical game, and we were right there, just came up a little bit short.”
Andre Wesson, who made that final decisive hoop off the slip-screen, had 15 points to lead the Buckeyes (16-7 overall, 6-6 Big Ten), who also got 10 apiece from Kaleb Wesson and Jackson.
Langford had a co-game-high 15 points for Indiana (13-11, 4-9), which also got 10 from Green.
On a day when Indian held an opponent to 55 points, the Hoosiers couldn’t get a win in Assembly Hall. And it mostly comes back to shooting, or lack thereof. IU finished .348 from the field (.250 from 3-point range). And when that happens, the floor never opens up for the offense.
“Throughout the course of this game, the perimeter shooting from 3 needed to be there for us,” Miller said. “And I’m not sure, as you go back and watch the film, how many good ones we got, how many rhythm ones we got.
“But we needed to be able to make a few tonight to alleviate that pressure in the paint.”
Indiana will hope to make a few more than the opposition does next Saturday afternoon at Minnesota. After that, in-state rival Purdue comes calling Feb. 19 for a 7 p.m. tip.