USA TODAY Sports
The Hoosiers fall at the buzzer in Champaign,
Never, ever, ever, doubt the Wonk himself. John Gasaway pens a warning to Hoosier fans about the Indiana's team proclivity for coughing up the ball, and the Hoosiers go out and immediately turn the ball over on a 22.6% of their possessions, losing on the road to Gasaway's own beloved Illinois. Credit to Illinois and John Groce. They needed a season-saving win, and fought for it. If this restores the Illinois (and Tyler Griffey's) confidence, maybe they start winning the games that they've been losing and get back to the 9 conference wins needed to get into the NCAAs.
On the Hoosier side, mental lapses were huge here. Yeah, the tech on Sheehey may have been iffy, but he's been skirting them for a while. I'll emphasize that I don't want Sheehey or Oladipo to dial back their exuberance too much, but some awareness of the officials would probably be good in the future. Also, while I believe that this team is clearly growing into greatness, the players need to understand that they are going to get everyone's best shot for 40 minutes, so they need to execute in every minute of every game. Scoring 2 points in the last 5 possessions of a close game is just not going to get it done.
It may be extremely frustrating, but there is honestly no shame in losing to Illinois. These same players for Illinois pulled off two big wins at home last season, one spectacular win over Ohio State, who went on to the Final Four, and an ugly win over Michigan State, who went on to be a #1 seed. It'll be a rough road for the Hoosiers to recover to grab a #1 seed at this point (certainly possible, but not easy), but better they suffer a loss like this now than in the tournament. The Hoosiers should still should be able to fix things to for a late run.
That said, there's work to be done. It's rather obvious that turnovers were a big problem, but here's one of the problems, Illinois got almost 40% of their points off of turnovers.
I hope Tom Crean got in Jordan Hulls' ear about his last shot after the game and said "Good shot! That'll fall next time!" Hulls was absolutely correct to press the advantage, and in previous games when no passing lanes have opened up, he's been deadly in clutch situations with that runner. Furthermore, you have one of the league's best offensive rebounding teams going against the one of the weakest defensive rebounding teams. There's a solid chance that the Hoosiers get that ball back even with a missed shot. And Watford did get the rebound, although he immediately got the ball stolen.
That said, the offensive rebounding of the Hoosiers was pretty clearly held in check. This probably had some effect on the outcome of the game, too. Including this game, the Hoosiers have posted an overall mark of 38.6% in conference play, but only grabbed 36% of their misses against one of the weakest rebounding teams in the conference. Even more problematic, a team that had committed an average of 26.5 fouls in their last two games only committed 16 in this one, limiting IU Free-Throw Rate to 28%, when the Hoosiers had been averaging 49.6%. Groce's sideline antics may have seemed to Hoosier fans to be courting a technical foul, but it did appear effective.
- Outside of the defensive mix-up at the end of the game, Cody Zeller actually did pretty well with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and only one turnover. Like the rest of the Hoosiers, he shot free-throws well hitting all six attempts. He probably needed to touch the ball more, but IU's offense had been shooting had been effective for the first 36 minutes (excluding the turnovers), it's hard to point the figure. Even with turnovers included, I estimate that Hoosiers were scoring 1.23 points per possession before that final 4 minutes.
- It was looking for a while like good Watford had shown up, and he did post 12 points and 6 rebounds, but he had a team-high six turnovers. That is simply unacceptable.
- Victor Oladipo only scored 9 points and had the fatal final turnover that sealed the Hoosiers' doom. Still, it was great hustle to get back for that final block, and until that point he had five assists and was the only starter who hadn't previously turned the ball over.
- Yogi Ferrell fared okay, but only shot 3-of-8 and had 4 assists. The three turnovers hurt, though.
- Jeremy Hollowell! Between Will Sheehey's 13 points and Hollowell posting 6 points on two three-point attempts, and coming up with two assists, the Hoosier bench is displaying a little depth. Still, the other four players to get off the pine only combined for 12 minutes, a rebound, an assist, a turnover, a block, and a foul. Hanner Mosquera-Perea notably gave up a three-point play in the middle of the second half, right when IU should've been turning the screws on the Illini.
- For Illinois, of course you have to mention DJ Richardson, who's starting to put together some decent performances in the 11th hour of his career. He just absolutely caught fire down the stretch, and a couple of those shots were under serious pressure, but also chipped in a block and three steals to go along with his 23 points. Also, fellow senior Tyler Griffey hit the buzzer-beater sure, but he also played his best game in some time. The 14 points was the second-best mark for the season for him, but the 8 rebounds is not only his season high, but the third-highest total of his career. And you have to go back to November 14th of 2011 (against SIU-Edwardsville) to find a higher mark by Griffey.
At the end of the day, this may end up being a very costly loss. The Ohio State game now becomes very important in the Big Ten race, which is unfortunate, as Columbus is a tough place to grab a road win.