Indiana Falls at Michigan State: Close but No Cigar

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

I don't like to deal in moral victories and I think Indiana basketball should be above those, but last night's game was at least chalked full of silver linings. Indiana did fall by a score of 71-66, but they were able to generate good momentum at multiple times throughout the game while taking a lead into the final 10 minutes of the game. However, everything came apart at the seams for several minutes before they righted the ship and ran out of time.

This was a game loaded with ifs and buts for the Hoosiers. They managed the game exactly how you would expect them to in a win on the road against the #3 team in the nation, but Michigan State showed they are deserving of that ranking. They took some pretty good punches from the Hoosiers and never backed down.

The game was fast paced and hectic which generated a lot of turnovers for both teams. A lot of people are going to look at the 18 turnovers that the Hoosiers committed and say there, that's why they lost. But in that fast pace they were also able to generate 14 turnovers for Michigan State. Losing the turnover battle by only four should be considered a positive compared to what we've become used to.

No, the biggest difference in Indiana and Michigan State last night were the easy shots. Michigan State hit their two point shots at a 7% higher clip than Indiana did and that was ultimately the difference. According to Jeff Rabjohns of Peegs.com, Indiana missed 14 shots at the rim last night. 14! I don't know if that is just a sign of young guys in college still gaining that muscle necessary to battle in the paint or what, but missing 14 shots at the rim is miserable. They are quite literally layups that Indiana just can't get to fall. All it took last night was for the Hoosiers to hit 3 of those 14 for a win.

Outside of the obviously very ugly team stat of missed layups Indiana actually played a pretty good game. If you played that exact same game over again 10 times Indiana may have won it 5. That's just the way things fell. Gary Harris was what we expected him to be by dropping 24 points on us. Branden Dawson added 13 points coming mostly from second chance points on 5 offensive rebounds. Keith Appling was not good despite his 6 assist performance and Matt Costello was an effective but not particularly strong warm body replacement for Payne.

However, the Hoosiers really missed Will Sheehey last night. Out with an ankle injury, Austin Etherington got the start in his place. While Etherington played some very good defense all game, he struggled mightily with taking care of the ball. It was by far his worst game this year and it just so happened to come at a very inopportune moment. His four turnovers came at some pretty key moments in the game and his reluctance to shoot the ball on offense still makes him tough to watch at times.

Surprisingly, Jeff Howard ended up logging 19 minutes in last night's game as well. What I first thought was just a message being sent by Crean to his team, has turned into full blown rotation minutes for Howard. He didn't provide much on offense last night, but he's our best post defender on the team at the moment. He did a great job of keeping Costello and Kenny Kaminski in check for the runs where Vonleh was sitting. Some people are going to rant and rave about him being out there, but the fact is that he plays great defense and mistake free offense, which at this point in this team's development is a huge asset.

We got the standard output from Ferrell and Vonleh as they were the keys to the Hoosier offense. Yogi had another poor shooting night and a lot of those missed layups were his, but once again if he wasn't on the floor we would have been killed. So it's hard to be overly critical of the most important piece on your team. There's a lot he can do better, but I'm not sure Crean has any other choice but to let him work it out on the court.

Vonleh double-doubled with 13 points and 13 rebounds as the Hoosiers outrebounded the Spartans by 5. Once again with those numbers he's likely locked up his seventh freshman of the week award. At this point, it's not really even fair for the rest of the conference. Vonleh is going to be the freshman of the year in the Big Ten and there isn't anything anyone else can do about it.

Finally, Jeremy Hollowell came back off his unofficial three game benching. We're still unaware of the exact details that warranted the benching, but it must have worked. Yes he still had two turnovers on the game, but in 15 minutes of play he was composed, provided the little things this team needs and walked away with 8 points, 2 rebounds and a steal. Jeremy when under control can be a huge asset and if he plays well in increasing minutes he can help turn this squad around. If he loses control again and starts to play outside of his wheelhouse, he's just as likely to end up riding the pine some more.

Ultimately, you have to be pretty happy with that IU performance. We didn't get the result we would have liked, but Indiana battled. Get some high percentage shots to fall here or there and we were staring a big upset in the face. Now Indiana needs to build off of this performance and not have a let down at home against Illinois. Indiana has six remaining home games and if they can defend their home court while getting one of Northwestern, Purdue or Nebraska on the road that gets them to 9-9. With the ups and downs this team has had all year, you can't really be too upset at a .500 conference record. The tournament may be increasingly out of reach as we miss opportunities last night, but the building blocks to a successful 2014-2015 campaign start this year.

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