The 1975-76 Hoosiers can rest easy. We all knew that the undefeated season wouldn't last forever, and it ended last night at the road venue that presented the toughest challenge for the Hoosiers over the years. Above all, this rates as one of the more unusual games I have seen. IU trailed by 18 with 5 minutes left in the first half, but IU outscored the Spartans 39-11 over the next 14 minutes to lead by 9 with 11 minutes remaining. Michigan State then whipped the Hoosiers 35-11 in the final ten minutes, including a 20-0 run following IU's largest lead, and that was that. Here's the box score.
The up and down nature of the game makes it tough to assign much meaning to the box score. For a 15 minute stretch, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that IU played its best basketball of the Crean era. For the other 25 minutes, the Hoosiers looked pretty helpless. If there was a pleasant surprise, it's that IU held its own on the boards at both ends of the court. These are my numbers, because Pomeroy isn't updated yet, but by my calculation IU had an offensive rebound percentage of about 34 percent compared to 30 percent for Michigan State. Of course, this was of limited value in this game, because the Spartans shot a better-than-usual 54 percent, compared to 42 percent for IU. MSU was a beastly 62 percent on two point attempts, with Derrick Nix's 6-9 off the bench the biggest factor. The Spartans also excelled at the line, particularly Keith Appling, who shot 9-10 there.
Ultimately, however, the story of this game was IU's poor offensive performance in the game's first 15 minutes and last 10 minutes. Cody Zeller, despite a few nice moments during IU's run early in the second half, was in large part stymied by the physical MSU big men. The IU guards again struggled to get Zeller the ball, but he wasn't able to do much with it when he caught it. Zeller made two field goals on successive possessions, and that was it. Four points, no free throws. IU's failure to get to the line was a major issue. Part of that is life on the road in the Big Ten (one happy thought I had during the game was that now that we are a Tournament contender, we will start getting the homecourt treatment that has been missing for the last three years), but there was a lack of penetration by IU for most of the game. I do think that Will Sheehey and his multi-faceted scoring ability would have been an asset in this game.
The biggest positive in this game, by far, was the performance of Christian Watford. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Bad Watford this season, but he was very good and looked very comfortable down low with the Michigan State big men. And if he can hold his own on the interior with MSU, then he can do it with any team remaining on IU's schedule. Watford scored 26 points on 9-16 shooting, including 4-6 from deep (Watford and Matt Roth, who played very well at Breslin for the second consecutive year, were the only Hoosiers to make a three pointer) and had 10 rebounds, including 8 on the defensive end. Other individual performances:
Jordan Hulls really struggled. He was 2-10 from the field, 0-4 from three point range, did not attempt a free throw, and had four turnovers. That IU led by 9 after the first 30 minutes of the game without a major offensive contribution from Hulls is pretty amazing.
After all of the injury talk, Verdell Jones III played 28 minutes and scored 11 points on 5-10 from the field. He didn't look significantly hobbled to me, which is good. Will Sheehey, on the other hand, didn't make the trip.
- As noted above, Matt Roth scored 6 points on 2-5 three point shooting, and played a huge part in IU's comeback late in the first half. To call Roth's three pointers "NBA length" would be underselling them. The deepest may well have been 30 from feet away.
As I said in the game thread last night, I am disappointed but not discouraged. As I have been saying for the last few weeks, this was one of the four or five toughest games on IU's Big Ten schedule. So is Saturday's home game against Ohio State. An 0-2 start is not a disaster for this team. A win in either of these games would have been found money. That's not to say that I relish the idea of hosting a dangerous Michigan team with 0-3 looming over the team's head, but these guys have been in tougher situations in their careers. All we can hope is for some learning from the lessons of last night, and a sudden recovery by Sheehey would be nice as well.