If No. 2 Indiana wants to win the outright Big Ten title, it's going to have to earn it the hard way.
No. 14 Ohio State came in to a raucous Assembly Hall in a seemingly impossible situation -- Senior Night for the Hoosiers, with Indiana a win away from clinching its first outright Big Ten title since 1993 -- and walked away a winner, 67-58, Tuesday night, handing the Hoosiers their most lopsided loss of the season.
It's a tough one to swallow for Indiana, who was an 81-68 winner in Columbus earlier this year and had so much on the line in this one. Now, the Hoosiers have to go on the road and beat No. 7 Michigan Sunday afternoon unless they wants to share the league title with a slew of others (up to as many as three).
Aaron Craft was a difference maker for the Buckeyes (22-7, 12-5), hitting several key buckets at critical junctures late in the second half. Craft did it all, finishing with 15 points (on 7-of-10 shooting), four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Deshaun Thomas netted 18 points despite missing 11 of his 17 field goal tries, and he added a game-best eight rebounds. Sam Thompson scored nine points while Evan Ravenel and Shannon Scott each tallied eight.
For the Hoosiers (25-5, 13-4), it was their third consecutive lackluster effort. Prior to tonight's setback, Indiana lost at Minnesota and struggled through a sluggish home win over Iowa. The Hoosiers haven't been quite the same squad since the win in East Lansing.
Cody Zeller had 17 points and Christian Watford dropped in 12, but no other Indiana player reached double figures. The Hoosiers shot just 39 percent from the field and finished with 23 points less than their season average.
Zeller finished with solid numbers despite disappearing in the second half, but no one truly had a good game for the Hoosiers. Here's the rundown:
- Jordan Hulls had eight points, three of which came on a late desperation bomb, and no assists.
- Will Sheehey was 1 for 6 with no assists.
- Kevin Ferrell, aka Yogi, was 3 of 10 for seven points, turning it over twice to go with two dimes. The 10 shot attempts tied for the team lead, which is never a good sign, and Ferrell had several uncalled-for, wreckless drives to the basket.
- Victor Oladipo ended with seven points and six rebounds, but he was out of sync all night, battling foul trouble and committing four completely unnecessary turnovers.
- Jeremy Hollowell was his usual shaky self, but he snagged four rebounds, two shy of a team-high, in limited minutes.
- Maurice Creek nailed a 3-pointer in sparse action.
As you can see, Indiana wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders. Give Ohio State credit for that. The Buckeyes scrapped defensively, and capitalized on Indiana's weakness: defensive rebounding. Ohio State came up with nine offensive rebounds, several at key times.
This game felt a lot like the Wisconsin game. I just kept waiting for the Hoosiers to turn it on and blow Ohio State away, but it just never happened. When Indiana threatened down the stretch, the Buckeyes came up with a play time after time, whether that be a Craft shot-clock-beating runner or chasing down a long rebound.
I've got to think this is as stinging of a loss as Indiana has had this year -- maybe dating back to last year, as well. After two subpar performances, Indiana wasn't able to turn it around against Ohio State. Now, this beloved senior class has to speak in front of Assembly Hall after a loss. That has to be a humbling wake-up call.
Before the year, everyone looked at the finale at Michigan and thought it'd be a matchup that decided the Big Ten. Three hours ago, it didn't seem like that would be the case. Well, it certainly is, and I'm fully expecting Indiana to snap out of its funk and play a really good game.
Writer's note: As I'm watching the speeches (thank you, BTN), I can't help but smile and think about how much fun this group has been to watch these past two years. My favorite Indiana team of all-time. But take wins and losses off the table, and it's glaringly obvious that we have great young men in our program, and that it's being led by a fantastic man in Tom Crean. It was easy to see how disappointed the players were to have to do this after a loss. I've got to think that this feeling is going to be a driving force going forward. No matter what happens from here on out, I love the type of program we have now -- one that competes for Big Ten titles on the court, graduates players in the classroom and develops young men.