Indiana dropped its third straight game yesterday, losing to No. 17 Michigan State 76-61 in East Lansing. It was the quintessential Big Ten basketball game, with the two teams combining for more fouls in the first half than made baskets, per Jeff Rabjohns. By the end of the game, the teams combined to shoot 55 free throws compared to just 41 combined three point attempts. An exhilarating affair. The Spartans shot much better from the charity stripe than the Hoosiers, which was just about enough to seal the deal against a now struggling Indiana team.
Here’s Three Things:
Same old story
Indiana lost yesterday because it did not make enough shots from the free throw line or from three point range. The Hoosiers were 5 of 21 from deep and hit just 59.3% of their field goals in a game where the refs were determined to get their TV time. After so many encouraging signs of progress this year, Indiana turned in a vintage Archie ball performance in mid-February with its tournament hopes very much still on the line and the more reactive factions of the fan base are ready to throw the whole team out.
There’s no denying that Indiana is not playing great basketball right now, probably the worst its played since Mike Woodson took over as coach. The last three games - hosting Illinois before hitting the road to take on Northwestern and Michigan State - were always going to be challenging, but Indiana hasn’t even turned in good performances in these games. Losing a winnable game in Evanston due to disciplinary issues also brings to mind the worst of the Crean era, making this little losing streak extra traumatic for Hoosier fans already disgusted by the traces of Archie left on this team.
There’s plenty of time for Indiana to turn things around and get more safely into the field of 68 before Selection Sunday. Despite this recent skid, the Hoosiers are still favored to beat Wisconsin Tuesday night, which would be a significant boost for the tournament resume. Only time will tell whether Indiana can get out of the rut it’s been stuck in since 2016.
New starting lineup
Woodson’s starting lineup had been drawing more and more criticism lately, with both Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp struggling to produce on a consistent basis. Since returning from injury, Trey Galloway has also made a great case for more playing time, giving the Hoosiers an instant offensive and defensive boost when he checks into games. Woodson finally made the switch yesterday, starting Galloway over Stewart and tightening the bench rotation to reflect recent production. For the first time in his Indiana career, Miller Kopp played fewer than 15 minutes while Tamar Bates saw his most action since December 4 against Nebraska.
Making significant adjustments to the rotation in mid-February may not be ideal for a team that’s hoping to end what feels like an eternal tournament drought. Things aren’t working right now for Indiana though, and it’s encouraging to see Woodson’s willingness to make changes as needed. Now it’s up to the players to respond to their new opportunities, which leads to the final point from yesterday’s game:
Secondary scoring options
Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson were always going to be the centerpieces to this year’s offense, but it wasn’t immediately clear where the rest of Indiana’s points would come from. Xavier Johnson has emerged as a key piece, especially since Rob Phinisee went down with an injury. He’s the only other Hoosier averaging more than 10 points per game right now, but was limited to 20 minutes yesterday because of foul trouble. With him on the bench, Indiana really struggled to get anything going.
Tamar Bates played well yesterday, tying his career-high with 13 points in 28 minutes on the floor. Parker Stewart wasn’t hitting his shots yesterday, but his seven attempts reflect an understanding of his role on this team and some increased urgency after his second suspension of the season. Those two combined for 17 of Indiana’s 20 points off the bench yesterday while the Spartans got 44 points from their reserves.
Trey Galloway struggled in his new role as a starter, scoring just a single point in a game when he didn’t hit a single field goal. Kopp only contributed three points yesterday as a starter, though I’m reluctant to call his offensive issues a scoring slump since he really doesn’t take many shots. He only has 30 more field goal attempts on the year than Rob Phinisee, who hasn’t played since January and has played almost 300 fewer minutes than Kopp even before the injury.
If Indiana wants to right the ship, it’ll need to find more scoring from guys not named Race Thompson or Trayce Jackson-Davis. Galloway, Bates and Stewart have all showed the potential, but haven’t played consistently enough so far this year.
With six games left in the regular season, here’s to hoping Indiana starts making shots and winning games again. That’s always more fun.