Four games into conference play, Indiana’s Big Ten title aspirations have been quashed. In what was essentially a must-win game, Indiana played the Terrapins close, though not well, for 40 minutes but was unable to get the job done on the road against Maryland.
Some of Indiana’s biggest names were nowhere to be found in the 75-72 loss. Thomas Bryant finished with just six points and O.G. Anunoby had just five. Maryland finished with nine blocks, smothering every inside attempt the Hoosiers made on the night, and made everything that didn’t go through James Blackmon entirely too difficult on Indiana.
As for when the Terrapins had the ball, it was Justin Jackson early in the ballgame carrying the load. The freshman finished with just 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting, but he was a spark for Maryland in the opening minutes that allowed them to get off to a quick start. The rest of the way, it was Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan who made big play after big play.
For the Hoosiers, this season has become the antithesis of last season. Last year’s campaign saw the Hoosiers struggle early and get it together just in time to storm through the Big Ten. Now, they are reeling after a fast start to the season, having lost four of their last five games.
Indiana, now 1-3 in Big Ten play, will host Rutgers next and then head to Penn State. They’ll need to right the ship quickly before they find themselves on the wrong side of the bracketology bubble.
Here are the three things that stood out:
James Blackmon. It was a rough night for the “better without Blackmon” crowd. The junior guard picked up two fouls in the first 110 seconds of the game and the Hoosiers got off to a slow, stagnant start without him. In all, he was on the bench for about 10 total minutes and Indiana was abysmal during all of them. But while on the floor, Blackmon had 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting and was the only thing the Hoosiers had going offensively as O.G. Anunoby and Thomas Bryant struggled mightily and Robert Johnson was unable to make too significant of a contribution after missing several minutes in the 2nd half with an injury. The bottom line is that if you still think this team would be better without Blackmon after tonight, there’s no helping you.
The regression of O.G. Anunoby. Before the season, college basketball “experts” were ready to crown Anunoby as the Naismith Player of the Year and a lottery pick. But for most of the season, he’s proven to be an excellent defender and good athlete, but not much else. Tonight was a prime example. The Indiana “star” finished with just 5 points on 2-of-9 shooting, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist. Maybe Anunoby will end up being the player that the Hoosiers want and need him to be, but as of now, he’s not even close. The shot decision and effort he made on the weak runner he attempted to take back the lead with 1:17 left in the game is all the evidence you need that he’s still more of a project than a player. The flashy and powerful dunks are nice, some substance would be even better.
Nothing left to defend. The Fort Wayne loss was an aberration. The Butler loss was more Bankers Life blues. The Nebraska loss was... you get the idea. There were excuses we could have made for all of the losses up to this point. But any excuse was a lie. The truth is that this is a fundamentally flawed team that doesn’t have a point guard, a leader, or an identity. What’s most telling, though, is that they seem to have no composure late in games and almost no pride. Everything positive that we saw from the Kansas and North Carolina games is gone. Playing “for Indiana” only lasted a few months, it seems. And if they don’t figure out what’s wrong and fix it soon, what we will see from this point forward is an unimaginable slide from being ranked 3rd in the AP poll to the NIT.