WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana rallied back from a double-digit deficit, but then lost all of the ground it had gained in a 70-60 loss to Nebraska in front of 17,472 at Assembly Hall on Senior Night.
The Hoosiers fell to 17-13 overall, 7-10 in the Big Ten. Nebraska improved to 18-11, 10-7.
Indiana fell behind by double digits in the first half and trailed 48-38 with 14:09 to go in the second half. They went on a 14-4 run to erase that advantage, however, tying the game at 52-52. However, they would go on to miss five shots that could have given them the lead over the next five minutes and two more that could have tied the game once they fell behind 59-56 with 3:46 remaining.
A layup by IU freshman forward Devin Davis made it 59-58 with 2:30 to go, but Nebraska’s Walter Pitchford hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to make it 62-58 and Indiana never made it a one-possession game after that. They went stagnant on offense and Nebraska hit eight free throws in the final minute to seal the game.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Pitchford, Nebraska’s stretch center, scored 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting, knocking down three of his four 3-point attempts. He also grabbed nine rebounds and blocked a shot.
Sophomore forward Shavon Shields also scored 17 points, but got most of his buckets on the dribble drive. using ball screens at the top of the key and attacking. He also finished with eight rebounds.
Sophomore forward Terran Petteway was just 3-for-10 from the field, but he scored 13 points. Guard Ray Gallegos was 3-for-10 from the field and was way off toward the end of the second half, but he also hit three critical three-pointers at important times. Point guard Benny Parker and forward Leslee Smith were a perfect 5-for-5 from the field combined and scored 12 points off the bench.
IU freshman forward Troy Williams had his best scoring outing since November with 18 points to go with six rebounds. He was 7-for-12 from the field and he also hit a pair of 3-pointers, which has been a rarity. Senior forward Will Sheehey scored 13 points while playing 38 minutes on his Senior Night. Sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell scored 10 points, but did so on one of his toughest shooting nights of the season. He finished 4-for-14 from the field, including 1-for-10 from beyond the 3-point arc. He did have five assists and eight rebounds. IU freshman forward Devin Davis and freshman guard Stanford Robinson scored seven points each with Davis going 3-for-5 from the field on one of his best nights of the season.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Indiana found out at walkthrough on Wednesday afternoon that freshman forward Noah Vonleh would not be available. He apparently had clearance from the doctors but wasn’t comfortable playing through the inflammation on his left foot. Nebraska had already game-planned to clog the middle against the Hoosiers just as they had in the first matchup between the two in Lincoln, but this made it more difficult.
The Cornhuskers sagged especially hard off freshmen Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson, who came into the game with a combined six three-pointers on the season, when they were in man-to-man. Williams actually made them pay for that with a pair of 3-pointers, but Robinson missed his only attempt. Regardless, it wasn’t a strategy that burned them much. The Hoosiers found it difficult to drive on Nebraska and they weren’t hitting outside shots collectively, making just five of 21 3-point attempts.
On some occasions, the Hoosiers got good ball movement and were able to work the ball through the paint by flashing wings to the foul line, but Nebraska did what it could to take that away as an option. The Hoosiers got exceptional ball movement early in the second half, but very much stalled down the stretch, especially in the final two minutes when they scored all of one basket. The Hoosiers finished the game at 36.7 percent from the field, making just 22 of 60 shots.
Meanwhile on defense, the Hoosiers gave Nebraska’s shooters a little too much space. Nebraska hit six 3-pointers, and a total of 13 field goals outside the paint. Pitchford was especially on fire and Gallegos got his shots. Petteway was actually 0-for-4 from 3-point range, but all three of his field goals were big. All told, Nebraska shot 45.5 percent from the field.
Pitchford’s last 3-pointer was an especially egregious mistake, as two Indiana defenders were crossed up on a screen switch. After that shot went down, Indiana never recovered.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: That tiny flicker of hope for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth has been extinguished, and there’s virtually zero hope that anything other than a Big Ten Tournament title will put Indiana in the Big Dance.
This loss doesn’t necessarily take Indiana back to the low point it was in after defeat at Purdue, but it costs them a lot of the momentum and the positive vibes that were starting to resurface around the program thanks to wins over Iowa and Ohio State. There was talk that maybe, just maybe, if the Hoosiers could go into Ann Arbor on Saturday and beat Michigan like they had last season and as they had earlier in the year in Bloomington. maybe the Hoosiers could put themselves back in a position that a two or three-day Big Ten Tournament run that fell short of a title might just give them hope. This ended that talk entirely.
Saturday’s game at Michigan still matters. For the future of the returning players, it’s important that this group at least goes down swinging, as Sheehey put it, and doesn’t end the season trending downward. Getting one more upset and getting it on the road would be major. But now, that game probably has no NCAA bearing.
The loss is also a painful one because the Hoosiers wanted more for a send-off for Sheehey, who spoke for exactly 48 seconds in his senior speech. His senior season hasn’t been what he had hoped, but he was still one of the pillars of Indiana’s rebuild, and there was never a point in the Senior Night festivities when he didn’t appear to be in pain.
“I do hate to lose,” he said when he took the microphone. “And I hate tonight.”
WHO SAID WHAT:
COACH CREAN: Bottom line is we did not shoot well enough tonight. When we moved the ball well and kept it moving from side to side, we were really hard to guard. We just didn’t do it enough.
They made some big, tough shots, and we made a couple of ‑‑ the mistake late of leaving Pitchford baffles my mind, to we all felt like we were going to be able to get over the hump.
Again, you just can’t have‑‑ you can’t have defensive mistakes. You can’t have a mistake where you haven’t made them all game and then all of a sudden make one late. It never comes down to one or two things, but they do get magnified.
And this team has got to continue to grow up in the sense of doing what it takes each and every possession. It never means that each and every possession is going to go great, by any stretch, but you can’t make defensive mistakes.
Again, bottom line is we did not shoot the ball well enough, and we never got exactly where we needed to be with getting the ball through the paint. And, again, the shooting numbers speak for themselves. We just didn’t make enough to put us over the hump at any point in time, even though we had a couple of good comebacks.
But that combined, like I said, with a couple of defensive mistakes at crucial times defies imagination, but it happens. And it did, and now we’ve got to regroup and get ready to go play Michigan.
Q. Talk about the ball movement at the end of the game.
COACH CREAN: Well, I think, when we made our run, we were down 11, and it was stagnant. Then all of a sudden, it was moving great. There was no need to change what we were doing. The zone didn’t have anything to do with it, just keep moving. Play out of the corners, and that’s what’s most important, that we do that. And with that, we keep the penetration.
We made our comeback, and they made some big plays, they really did. We had a couple of times‑‑ I mean, Pitchford shot the ball over us, but there are different things we did defensively bothered them. We had some guys step up that‑‑ like Devin Davis did some really good things tonight. Troy Williams continued to play better. We told Troy before the game, somehow you’ve got to find a way to get ten rebounds.
Guys were trying, I mean, there’s no question about it. We didn’t know Noah was not going to play until the end of walk‑through, and he just didn’t feel comfortable with his foot. So we had to regroup. We had to change.
But I thought our guys did a good job of trying to do that, but you’ve got to‑‑ you’ve got to continue this game. I mean, the margin for error for our team already is so small that you just can’t make defensive mistakes late. You know, you can’t leave a shooter when you’re switching. You just can’t. We’ve got to continue to grow up, there’s no question, and regroup in a hurry.
Q. Has this team left you scratching your head more than any other team you’ve had?
COACH CREAN: That’s a hypothetical. I don’t look at it that way. So can’t help you with that one. I come in here, and I’m telling you what I see of the game. I haven’t watched the film yet, but I’m not in the reflective mood of the season.
What it is is we’ve got to‑‑ the self‑inflicted mistakes are always going to bother you, and so that’s the kind of stuff that we’ve got to overcome.
Q. Talk a little more about Devin and the way he battles inside.
COACH CREAN: Yeah, he did a really nice job, no question about it. Now we just need him to be consistent. That’s been the number one thing of our team. Anyway, we’ve got to get to a consistent place and consistent minutes. We’re asking these guys, especially guys like Devin Davis, who didn’t even play that much the other day, to play considerable minutes in a game like this and to be very productive. They’ll be better for it.
But the bottom line is we’ve got to continue to take it on into the next game, and I thought he did a good job inside of that. He was straight warrior tonight. That’s exactly what we need from him.
I thought Troy did some really good things. But when you’re playing a lot of minutes and there’s high expectations for‑‑ no matter what their age is. When we’re playing them, we’re not thinking the fact that they’re freshmen and haven’t played a lot of minutes. We just want to play better basketball. There’s times we have, and there’s times we haven’t. But I thought he did a nice job.
I think we’ll be surprised if we don’t even feel better about it when we watch the film. He was giving up some size, and he did a really good job.
Q. How much do you think about it before you watch film, the difference in a game like Wisconsin or Iowa where you still close out that game with plays you make, and then the game like tonight where you do bring it back to a tie and just missed some of those plays, I guess?
COACH CREAN: I don’t understand. What do you mean?
Q. I guess the difference, in two tight games, being able to close one out.
COACH CREAN: You mean Wisconsin back earlier in the season?
That’s so far back. We’re such a different team. I think it’s one of those games where it comes down to a couple of plays. It’s the game where really, win or lose the game, throughout the game, we made the great comeback. I thought, we’re over the hump. The ball’s going to move. Then again, every possession now as you’re going down the line, it gets magnified. You’ve got to be strong.
So that game we’re pretty good about what we need to do defensively. Same thing with the last couple of games. We were pretty good about carrying out what we need to do defensively. These games come down to such a minute thing. You leave a shooter like a Pitchford open or you block out late, those things get you. They get you.
When you win, you do a better job than when you don’t. That’s what it comes down to. You make more plays in close games over that period of time.
And today when it got close, we didn’t make as many of those plays.
Q. With Noah out, how important have these last two games been for guys like Connor, Devin, for them to step up?
COACH CREAN: I think really important. I thought Stan Robinson did a good job tonight. We’re asking a lot of young guys. You don’t coach with perspective, but every once in a while, you’ve got to sit back and look at it. I thought Troy did some really good things. He’s gaining confidence all the time.
Stan was on top of it. Devin was really good. Connor the other night, not as much tonight. Bottom line is will it be better for them down the road? Absolutely. We’re not thinking about down the road. We’re thinking about how to win this one, and now we’re thinking about how to get ready for Michigan.
Q. Do you think Yogi was forcing shots?
COACH CREAN: I got to watch the film on that. The ball didn’t move the way that it needed to. He’s got to continue to use screens. He’s got to continue‑‑ when he came off and was in movement and when we’re utilizing the corners the way that we have been, that’s the most important.
You can’t‑‑ where we struggle is when the ball sits inside of those slots, those elbows. That’s what he’s got to continue to grow out of, in all honesty. He’s got to ‑‑ we can end up in there, but you can’t be in there a lot at the beginning. It’s got to move.
Eventually, when we’re shooting it better, it will be a little bit easier, but today, again, use the movement, use the cutting, and continue to space them out, especially when they didn’t want to space out.
But a couple times, we came in zones, and we missed a couple shots, and we missed the next pass, those type of things. I’ll have to watch the film of that. He’s just got to be in constant movement, and that means, a lot of times, without the ball. So the ball can come back and get him. So he can come back and get the ball.
Q. Does Nebraska have the look of an NCAA tourney team?
COACH CREAN: You know, I don’t know. Nebraska is really good. I’m not real reflective right now, but they’re really good. They’re a legitimate team, and they’ve got a lot of pieces. I’m going to worry about my team.
But they did a great job, and he’s a great coach, no question.
Q. I think you tied the game with 10:08 left and the shots went kind of cold. What wasn’t working offensively there the last ten minutes of the second half?
YOGI FERRELL: Yeah, we just couldn’t get our mojo. We just got quiet and shots weren’t falling. That’s just a part of the game. That’s all I’m going to say.
TROY WILLIAMS: The most we can do now is look on it tomorrow. It’s a new day tomorrow. Get right back at it.
Q. Offensively, what were you guys trying to do against the zone?
YOGI FERRELL: What we wanted to do is get into the middle. That’s my guy over here, Will. That’s basically what we wanted to do. And drive as well. We just didn’t finish a couple of layups here and there. That’s pretty much what we were trying to do.
Q. Yogi, were you surprised you were double‑teamed at the top to begin the game?
YOGI FERRELL: Was I surprised? Basically, I just feel like that’s their defense. They just kind of trap, ball screen, that’s all. The only other team that does that is Illinois. So yeah.
Q. Will, now that you’re into the Big Ten Tournament, what are you going to tell the team?
WILL SHEEHEY: We got to make sure we just go down swinging. This might have been my last home game, but it’s not my last game. We have numerous practices, numerous games left. Just because we lost one game doesn’t mean we’re not going to play the next game as hard as we possibly can. We’ve got to come out and play like we know we can, defensively and offensively. We still have a shot at this thing.
Q. Will, what happened against the last two nationally ranked teams that didn’t happen tonight?
WILL SHEEHEY: I think it was just both offensively and defensively, we just didn’t play with the same swagger and edge that we usually do. I think defensively, we made some mistakes, including myself, and offensively the ball just didn’t move. We didn’t get too many transition points because getting stops on the defensive end became tough.
Q. Can you kind of diagnose what’s different, maybe along the same lines, that you’ve been able to close out tight games, or take control of tight games late, or games where you haven’t? Thinking about, obviously, Iowa, Ohio State, Notre Dame, just kind of contrasting those and diagnosing what works and what didn’t in tight games like that.
YOGI FERRELL: That’s a very long question.
YOGI FERRELL: Well, you know, every game’s different. So you’ve just got to kind of play the game. It comes down to the wire. You know, you got to do different things, you know, that maybe you did in the past game, but you’ve got to do something different now.
Man, that’s a long question. I can’t remember anything else.
Q. Yogi, can you talk about how Devin Davis played?
YOGI FERRELL: Devin’s done a great job for us. I like how hard he plays. He hits that offensive glass harder than anyone else. He’s not, you know, the tallest forward out there, but he carves out space. He gets those offensive boards, puts it back up, kicks it.
So I know we can get energy from him off the bench. He’s definitely a key player for us.
Q. Will, just give your thoughts on how Troy and Devin played.
WILL SHEEHEY: You know, Troy drives the lane hard. He looks for other guys. Tonight his shot was rolling. He can get into the lane, like I said. He has a bunch of energy. He gets out and runs, and things happen.
Devin, like Yogi said, plays really hard. He’s always there to get the loose ball or at least attempt to. He has to keep bringing that.
Q. Will, what bothered you on the defensive end tonight?
WILL SHEEHEY: Sometimes just leaving guys open, not getting to the ball in transition, things like that. There was a stretch there where the other guys hit a bunch of threes. That was unacceptable.