After an incredibly sloppy start to the contest, Indiana found its strike, going on a 12-0 run to take a 10-point lead just over halfway through the first half. But a meltdown from there allowed Minnesota to grab a 33-29 halftime lead. In the second half, the Hoosiers stormed back to take a five point lead at 65-60, but Josh Newkirk fouled out with over four minutes remaining and the Gophers outscored 15-9 the rest of the way to pull out a 75-74 victory.
Here are three things that stood out:
Either Robert Johnson was already broken or Tom Crean giving his starting position to Devonte Green broke him. Johnson struggled mightily in the first half, going 0-for-4 from the field, committing two fouls, and turning the ball over twice in just 9 minutes. In those 9 minutes, he was -16. It was either a good decision to pass Johnson over and limit his minutes, or it mentally broke him and was an incredible backfire. Not to be overlooked was Johnson being within reach of a potential rebound with three seconds left that would have ended the game, effectively. He finished with 0 points on 0-of-6 shooting.
But that wasn’t the only coaching decision that should have grabbed your attention. De’Ron Davis, who started the ballgame, picked up two quick fouls in the first two minutes of the game. Then, with about nine minutes left in the first half, Crean put Davis back into the game for inexplicable reasons. Promptly — seriously, it was like six seconds later — Davis picked up his third foul and would have to sit until 17:10 remained in the second half. Then, Davis picked up his fourth foul — in three minutes of playing time — with 16:58 left in the second half. You can’t make this stuff up. Then, with 12:44 left in the game, and just one week after Thomas Bryant was gassed after playing nearly the entirety of the second half against Purdue due to an injury to Davis, Davis re-entered.
Finally, there was the decision to leave Josh Newkirk in late in the first half with foul trouble of his own. With 1:33 left in the first half, Newkirk picked up his second foul. Instead of spelling him with Green or Curtis Jones, Crean left the junior point guard on the floor. With six seconds left, Newkirk picked up another foul, his third. While Newkirk only missed the first three minutes of the second half (he entered when Davis picked up his fourth foul), those three minutes went to Johnson, which brought his +/- to -19. Newkirk ultimately fouled out with 4:45 left in the game on what was about the fourth phantom call against him.
After struggling to find his rhythm against Purdue and Michigan, James Blackmon, Jr. put the team on his back in Minneapolis tonight. Thomas Bryant, Johnson, and Jones were all scoreless in the first half. Davis and McSwain had just four between them. But the Hoosiers were able to stay in the game thanks to Blackmon’s shooting (along with Newkirk’s quality play). It was nice to see Blackmon look like he’s finally bouncing back from his injury, ending the night with 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Too bad he needed 24 or 25.
What is there left to say after another close loss? This team, as a collective, doesn’t have it. Maybe they don’t have it as individuals either. It appears that Crean has lost his players, with Robert Johnson being Exhibit A. Sure, the injuries don’t help. But there’s no reason to feel good about anything surrounding this program, and that may be the best argument that the #FireTomCrean crowd has at their disposal. One thing is certain, that crowd is getting larger by the game, and for good reason. At this point, it seems that change might be best for everyone involved — players, fans, and coach.