The Hoosiers started Saturday’s game against Butler with a 6-0 run propelled by three of the best defensive possessions all season. From that point on, nothing went right for the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers successfully fought their way through most of a terrible first half — highlighted by an 0-for-8 performance behind the arc, while Butler shot 70% from deep — and trailed 30-26 with just minutes remaining before the break. But Thomas Bryant was forced to sit with two fouls and Butler closed the half on a 12-2 run to lead by 14 at intermission.
In the second half, Indiana clawed back into the game slowly. In the first 10 minutes of the half, though, Kelan Martin answered every little Indiana run in what may have been his biggest performance ever. Indiana was able to treat the Martin-inflicted wound when OG Anunoby defended him over most of the final 10 minutes and trailed just 73-69 with four minutes remaining. They even had a chance to tie the game with roughly one minute to play. But it was too little too late for the Hoosiers, as Butler was able to stave off the comeback and secure a 83-78 win. Now we get another year to hear about the “Butler way” and listen to future pharmacists who think their program is God’s gift to college basketball.
So, what three things stood out?
OG Anunoby’s health might have mattered. A few minutes into the second half, it was clear that Anunoby was capable of playing at a high level, despite a limited and unproductive role in the first half. After it became clear his ankle was fully ready to go, he began defending Martin and held the Bulldogs’ star in check the rest of the way. As we learned when they played in Fort Wayne, Anunoby is the guy that makes this team go and you have to wonder if this game could have been different from the get-go if the Hoosiers had been sure about his ankle and he’d been able to start.
Sometimes shot go down and sometimes they don’t. This isn’t anything new to Indiana fans. Of the losses the Hoosiers have suffered since Maui last season, the two that jump to mind the most are the tournament loss to North Carolina and the aforementioned loss to Fort Wayne. In both of those contests, Indiana struggled to shoot the ball from deep and the opponent absolutely torched them from behind the arc. Today, we saw more of the same. The first half stats have already been noted above, but in total, Indiana was 6-for-21 (28.6%) from 3 and Butler went 10-for-21 (47.6%). When two fairly evenly matched teams play, shots can make all the difference. Today, that was certainly the case.
The newcomers weren’t great. Josh Newkirk struggled tremendously in the first half and missed a critical free throw attempt with 10 seconds left that could’ve allowed Indiana to cut the lead to two. Curtis Jones, for the second straight game against a ranked opponent, looked simultaneously lost and out-of-control. De’Ron Davis held his own with Bryant out of the game, but he certainly didn’t fill the void in the way this team will need when Bryant is in foul trouble. This game will ultimately serve as another lesson for the youth and, hopefully, Newkirk can use the first half film to understand how to better play within himself and out of the way of the guys around him. But today, the “other guys” didn’t get it done.
BONUS THING: It is a miracle that Thomas Bryant didn’t punch someone today. Those of us who love the Hoosiers will say that the officiating was terrible and that the mistakes benefited Butler much more than Indiana. Those who hate Indiana will disagree. In truth, objective observers will probably say that the officiating was bad both ways. One thing that can’t be denied, however, is that Thomas Bryant was on the receiving end of a majority of the bad calls that went against Indiana. He got hacked on one end and called for some pretty ticky-tack stuck on the other end. And late in the game, the bad whistles against Indiana started to get to him. When James Blackmon was called for a pushing foul on the baseline as a Bulldog seemingly fell on his own, Bryant was ready to go ballistic until Crean pulled the reigns in on him. Does he need to keep his negative emotions in check? Sure. Was not punching someone or throwing an elbow keeping them in check? Yup.