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Three things: Indiana loses at Wisconsin 64-59


NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Bob Knight is still the last Indiana men’s basketball coach to win in the Kohl Center. After getting out to a 42-25 lead at half, Indiana looked poised to end their losing streak in Madison tonight. The Hoosiers held onto that lead until Johnny Davis hit a three with 1:18 left in the game, after which Indiana failed to score a single point. A total collapse.

Anyway, here’s three things:

The Xavier Johnson Game

Early on, this seemed like it had a chance to be the Xavier Johnson game in a good way. He finished the night with ten points, seven assists, and seven boards, most of which came in the first half. On their own, the stats were fine, and his ten points were the second highest for the Hoosiers tonight. Unfortunately, his final two minutes negated any good things he did and probably cost Indiana the game.

In those two minutes alone, he turned it over once, missed a lay up, and missed the front end of a one-and-one when Indiana was down by just three before committing the foul to send Chucky Hepburn to the line for the Badgers’ final two points. He managed to get the ball to Trayce Jackson-Davis only once in the final two minutes of a one possession game.

I didn’t watch much, if any, Pittsburgh basketball, so I’m not sure Xavier’s role on that team was last year. HIs will to win and ability to create when the rest of the offense stagnates are certainly appreciated as well. If Indiana has to live and die with one player though, I think everyone would prefer that the player be Trayce, and Johnson has to know to get him the ball in that scenario.

This Team Still Isn’t Consistent

In prior games (and seasons), Indiana has gotten off to slow starts offensively and had to overcompensate in the second half to win, so it was refreshing to see them come out firing early in this game. The offense was flowing nicely, the defense was shutting down Wisconsin, and it seemed like the Hoosiers had built a big enough lead to protect them from even a moderate second half slump.

Instead, the Hoosiers turned in the worst offensive half of the Woodson Era, scoring just 17 points in the final twenty minutes of the game. A superstitious person may blame whatever curse has doomed the men’s basketball team when they play in Madison, Wisconsin, but Indiana has struggled to string together consistent minutes of good basketball so far this season. After surging back to force overtime in the Carrier Dome, Indiana saw a similar offensive regression in the first and second overtimes, which, along with sloppy play in the first half, cost them that game as well.

Mike Woodson is still a first year head coach, and the previous regime surely instilled some undesirable attitudes towards scoring the basketball in close games. If this team can shake off the bad habits of prior years and start to win these nail-biters, they’ll have a chance to be very good.

Time Off

In the next three weeks, Indiana plays just one opponent ranked in the top 150 on Kenpom. And the December 18th matchup with 3-4 Notre Dame in Indianapolis is about as friendly as neutral site games get, considering Indiana’s past success in the Crossroad Classic. In other words, Woodson has time to figure things out.

The highs that this team has reached already, like today’s first half, make it difficult to accept the inconsistencies, but Woodson is still learning how to manage and motivate a group that has not won a ton of games together. It’s early and there’s value in Woodson learning who he can and cannot depend on to close out games at this point in the season when there’s still time to make adjustments.

Next time, it would be nice to see him maybe intervene a little earlier than he did near the end to draw up a play instead of letting Johnson and Trayce run the same pick and roll over and over. But Woodson is likely not as concerned with the losing streak in the Kohl center as you and I are, and he will have more opportunities to win there as a coach. His team is still 7-2 with a good chance to get to eleven wins before the new year, so as long as they can learn from this one, all is forgiven.