BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The unhappy Indiana faithful trudged into the night, cursing Purdue. Cursing the 7-3 giant from the Netherlands who had just beaten them. Cursing fate, which has turned its back so ruthlessly on their basketball team.
Back inside, senior Juwan Morgan, who has worn himself down trying to save the day and just missed 11 of 14 shots, sought to put yet another painful night in perspective. “You can’t really reach the highs, until you’ve been through the lows,” he said. And boy, the Hoosiers are up to their Indiana block letters in lows at the moment.
There are lots of examples of sudden changes in fortune out there in college basketball, but Indiana’s path is something extraordinary. On Jan. 3, the Hoosiers were 12-2 and off to a 3-0 start in the Big Ten, having roared into the top-25. They were a seemingly blessed bunch that had won four consecutive games by 2, 2, 1 and 3 points, and also positively crushed Marquette.
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Then the walls caved in.
They have played 12 Big Ten games since. They have lost 11 of them. The only game they won during the slide — go figure — was at Michigan State. But elsewhere, it’s been one lonnnnnnnng descent, from 12-2 to 13-13. And wait till you see how.
Purdue All-American Carson Edwards took 24 shots Tuesday night and made only four of them. He tried 10 from beyond the 3-point arc, and missed them all. As a team, the Boilermakers shot 31.7 percent, with only 4-for-9 in free throws.
Indiana still lost.
After Purdue’s big, big man, Matt Haarms, got himself tangled up with Indiana’s De’Ron Davis and drew a technical, the student section chanted un-niceties at him and booed every time he touched the ball. The last time he touched the ball, he tipped in a miss with 3.2 seconds left to win the game 48-46. And so it goes, for Indiana.
The other 10 defeats in this train wreck have come in all shapes and sizes. “You’ve got to have short-term memory,” coach Archie Miller was saying. But just look at all the Hoosiers have to forget.
Getting beaten in the last minute by Ohio State, but also falling behind at the start 17-0 in their second game against Michigan. In their first game against the Wolverines, Indiana’s two leading scorers — Romeo Langford and Morgan — each picked up two fouls and had to sit down . . . in the first 80 seconds.
There was the 18-3 wipeout in offensive rebounding against Maryland. The 18-point hole at home after only 11 minutes against Nebraska. The 7-for-18 breakdown at the free throw line at Purdue in their first meeting. The 27-3 run that Rutgers executed, wiping out a 10-point Indiana lead.
There was the baffling night at Northwestern, when Wildcat sub Aaron Falzon hit six of seven 3-pointer for 21 points. Baffling? Here’s why: Falzon has only scored 21 points total in the other nine games he has appeared in this season.
And then there was Tuesday night, when Purdue won at Indiana’s Assembly Hall for the third consecutive time. The Boilermakers had never done that before in the history of the building, which goes back 48 years.
At least in this one, the Hoosiers put up a fight. Not like Saturday at Minnesota, when they were down 30.
“The team that took the floor tonight had a great disposition, and that’s the thing that needs to stay,” Miller said. “Those guys obviously looked at one another and said, `This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.’”
Indiana has had a lot of injuries. Big Ten opponents have figured out how to shut down the penetration of Langford, the Hoosiers’ favorite weapon. He is a vastly talented and productive freshman, but so, so much was expected so, so soon. From the moment he arrived, he was always Romeo. Just Romeo. It’s a little risky and rash, making a freshman a one-name-only icon yet. Unless that name is Magic. Or Zion.
And this Indiana team has the hardest time putting the ball where it is supposed to go. The national ranks going into this week were 297th in 3-point percentage and 315th at the free throw line. The state that gave us Hoosiers can’t find a reliable outside threat? What would Jimmy Chitwood say?
Miller hadn’t been happy with the communication, the focus and the steel of his beleaguered troops. He looked back at the blowout at home against Nebraska. “I would say losing at home the way that we did shook us, shook our confidence. We’ve been trying to fight our way out of that a few times. It’s usually been about the confidence level of our team, and forgetting at times what really, really matters, and that’s the unquestioned max effort that you give, regardless of the circumstances.”
When they were blasted at home by Michigan to start this month, Miller put it plainly. “We’re a shell of where we were . . . We’ve got to put our big boy pants on here, and start showing up.” The Minnesota mashing last weekend wasn’t pretty, either.
“I think that’s the thing (an unyielding purpose and confidence, no matter the adversity) you’ve got to hold dear to your heart as a group all the time,” Miller said. “It can’t ever leave you. When it does, bad things happen. I think we know that.”
Three of five Indiana’s remaining regular season games are at home, so the Hoosiers can still stop the bleeding. Then again, they have lost five in a row in Bloomington. But Tuesday’s grit — it was unsightly and accompanied by the noise of a lot of shots clanging off the rim, but gritty nonetheless — could be a start.
“I think it’s a change in mentality that we just have no choice but to maintain,” Morgan said. “These last few games, we still have a chance. Everything we want is still in front of us.”
So a team that beat Marquette, Louisville and Michigan State is fighting to prevent a disaster. Forget the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Indiana Hoosiers are just trying to find a little salvation.
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