The film of the final minutes of No. 1 Indiana’s 74-72 loss showed Tom Crean and the Hoosiers that they need to become a smarter basketball team.
Crean said in his post game press conference on Thursday that the loss came because the Hoosiers didn’t stay committed to the game plan, turned the ball over too much and generally didn’t play as intelligently as they needed to late in the game. He’s had the last two days to try to get that through to his players.
“They saw quickly that we had gotten out of what had been working,” Crean said. “(Assistant coach) Tim Buckley said it best. If you play at Indiana, you get a ton of offensive freedom. A ton of it. At the same time, when it’s time to win the game, winning the game and the time and score situation override any of that. We didn’t always do that. It wasn’t like they were bad shots, but we didn’t play time and score the way that we needed to. My first reaction was, ‘As much time as we spend on that, there’s no excuse for it.’ Then you realize, you get back and home and you realize, ‘you know what, that’s where we’re at. We gotta fix it.’ It’s so much of what the games are about. We went through it on film. We reiterated it numerous times through some of our work, and it’s just getting these guys to be comfortable in those situations.”
Indiana’s 1 p.m. game on Sunday figures to be one of those games that will require the use of those lessons. The No. 10 Buckeyes are 17-5 overall, 7-3 in the Big Ten and 12-1 at home this season. Illinois is the only team Ohio State has lost to that isn’t in the Top 25, and the Buckeyes beat Michigan at home and took them to the wire in Ann Arbor before losing an overtime thriller on Tuesday.
The Buckeyes went through a significant offseason overhaul with the graduation of William Buford and the early NBA entry of center Jared Sullinger, but they’ve come through that pretty well and boast the No. 14 most efficient offense (114.2 points per 100 possessions) and No. 11 most efficient defense (86.5 points per 100 possessions) in the country.
“They’re as physically tough defensively as any team we will have faced to this point, and especially at home,” Crean said. ‘They’re a spurt team. They’re a big run team. They start really fast at home a lot of times. We’ve got to weather those storms. Their crowd is fantastic, they’re right there on top of you. It will be an unbelievable atmosphere, and we’ve just gotta stay truly committed to what’s important. You can’t get caught up in the surroundings as much as you stay true to the game plan inside of it. Excellent on the defensive end, they can score in a lot of different ways.”
Most of those ways tend to involve Deshaun Thomas. The former Fort Wayne Bishop Luers star and 2010 Indiana Mr. Basketball became the focal point of the offense when Buford and Sullinger left, and he’s used that position to become the leading scorer in the Big Ten with 19.9 points per game. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound junior can score inside and outside, shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc with 52 3-pointers.
“He’s a scorer,” Crean said. “He’s got a scorer’s mentality. He’s big. He gets it off extremely quick. He can play at the post. He’s extremely dangerous in the mid-post area. In the pick-and-pop, driving and 3-point shooting game. He’s just an all-around scorer.”
Junior point guard Aaron Craft isn’t as dangerous of a scorer, but he does rank second in the Big Ten in assists with 4.5 per game and is the defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. IU junior guard Victor Oladipo is certainly making a play to take it away from him this year, but Craft isn’t making it easy, ranking third in the Big Ten in steals with 2.0 per game.
“He gets into your body,” Crean said. “He’s got quick feet, quick hands. He’s very physical. He’s extremely physical on the ball. He gets up into you. He uses his hands very well. He’s got the respect of the officials. I think that’s certain, but his athleticism is very unique with his foot speed and his hand speed.”
And the Buckeyes have a lot beyond those two. Shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. averages 10.5 points per game. Sophomore Sam Thompson gives the Buckeyes an explosively athletic small forward, and big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams have combined to give them a post presence in the wake of Sullinger’s departure. Sophomore Shannon Scott makes sure the point guard play doesn’t fall off when Craft comes off the floor, as he averages 3.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game as a backup.
For all of those reasons, the Hoosiers are hoping for a much better performance than they had Thursday, and one area that they have focused on with that in mind is getting the ball into the post more. IU sophomore center and preseason All-American Cody Zeller had just six field goal attempts in Thursday’s game, and Crean said that number has to go up.
“There’s no doubt that he needs to get it more,” Crean said, “and not just for the shooting but for how much he gets fouled. I’d say the same with Christian. When you’re shooting from the foul line the way that those guys are, it’s a big part of the game plan. Cody needs to get the ball more in the second half, and he needs to get it where he can not only score but facilitate for others where there’s a lot of pressure on the opponent, and that’s where the fouls come from.”
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