Spotting an opponent a 20 point first half lead, especially on the road and especially against an NCAA Tournament-bound team, is not conducive to success. A poor defensive effort and anemic offense in the 13 minutes of the game led to a 28-8 deficit, and while the Hoosiers managed to whittle the lead down to 2 with 3 minutes remaining, Michigan then went on a decisive run to account for the final margin.
This is a tough one to swallow. Certainly, I'm pleased that the team rallied rather than rolling over, and pleased that Tom Crean finally used the bench as a motivator for Christian Watford and Verdell Jones III. It seemed to work pretty well. Between the 7 minute mark of the first half and the three minute mark of the second half, IU outscored Michigan 42-24. Rather than offer any consolation, however, it simply makes it even more frustrating that the team managed to dig a 20 point hole in the first place. As expected, Michigan relied heavily on the three pointer and shot better than its usual percentage. Michigan made 9-22 three pointers. Five of those came in the first 13 minutes and one more came in the final three minutes, so obviously IU's ability to make a run was premised on improved defense and/or cold shooting from the perimeter by U-M. IU had 14 turnovers, compared to 6 for Michigan, which in a 59 possession game amounts to an ugly 23.9 percent. There were some bright spots: Watford played well after his benching; Jordan Hulls regained his three point shooting stroke with a 4-5 performance; Cody Zeller struggled to score but did have 12 rebounds. Ultimately, however, it was a winnable game rendered a loss because of IU's listless start. This has been the pattern in IU's most recent road games: IU played very well for 35 minutes at Nebraska, only to collapse down the stretch; the Hoosiers were in the game at Wisconsin in the final minutes; and played 25 very good minutes at Michigan sandwiched by 15 minutes of absolute garbage.
IU now has three road games and four home games remaining, and is quickly erasing its margin for error. Purdue isn't as good as Wisconsin or Michigan, but Mackey is always a tough venue for IU, and Purdue has had a week to prepare and to get healthy. Despite my opinion on the relative quality of the teams, I was much more optimistic about IU's chances in Ann Arbor than in West Lafayette. I sincerely hope that I am wrong about IU's chances up there.