FORT WAYNE — Tom Crean aimed for reassurance.
With 8:41 remaining in the second half, his team trailing by seven, Crean stood in front of the Indiana bench and fixed his eyes on a bubbling upset.
“We’re gonna be fine,” he said to the Hoosiers seated behind him. “We’re gonna be fine.”
Except that, on this night, Indiana was most definitely not.
Playing in front of an overwhelming pro-IU crowd at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, the No. 3 Hoosiers never took control in a disappointing, 71-68 overtime loss to Fort Wayne.
Blame an absent defensive approach, blame an offense that never found its comfort or — worse yet — settled for contested shots. There was plenty of blame to go around.
Indiana (3-1) had to learn from a few embarrassing early-season losses away from home last season. Now it must do so again.
“Either way, when the game got started, I thought we were going to learn a very valuable lesson one way or the other,” Crean said. “Hopefully, we learned it. We didn’t get the result we wanted by any stretch.”
Though the fans inside an old, but rocking arena were aching to celebrate a rare appearance by the Hoosiers in Fort Wayne, IU gave them no such satisfaction. Indiana went 11-for-19 at the free throw line. It sank merely seven of its 24 3-point attempts and turned the ball over 15 times.
Crean has cautioned at times this month that this Hoosier team is not yet where it needs to be. A disjointed off-season full of injuries is partly to blame.
By early Wednesday morning, IU returned to its bus left to diagnose the first troubling result of the young season.
“The bottom line is you gotta try and find a way to win it,” Crean said. “We did a lot of different things to try and stem the tide. But the bottom line is they executed better. That’s just highly disappointing to me. They passed the ball quicker and much better than we did tonight. That’s not a good recipe for us on our end. We were not as locked in to the personnel and what we needed to do with the block-outs. With all that being said, if we make our free throws and a couple different plays, it’s a different result.”
IU’s Thomas Bryant and Fort Wayne’s Bryson Scott each scored 18 points. Robert Johnson added 16 points, while James Blackmon Jr. and Josh Newkirk each added 13.
Johnson and Fort Wayne’s Kason Harrell traded 3-pointers in the extra period, but IU never seized the moment. Jon Konchar’s free throw with 1:19 to play in the extra period put the Mastodons up 69-68 before DeAngelo Stewart ended the night with two more from the line.
In between, Bryant missed a free throw and Blackmon was swallowed whole as he attempted to drive to the rim in the waning seconds. Little went right for the Hoosiers on Tuesday, and from the very beginning, it was clear something was amiss.
After Bryant opened the scoring with a 3-pointer up top, Fort Wayne answered with an 13-0 run. On the bench, Crean looked at Newkirk and said, “Get ready to go, Josh. We’re slow.”
Fort Wayne’s speed was one of Crean’s concerns entering this game, and the Mastodons had little trouble pushing the pace and running to the rim. The Hoosiers offered little defensive resistance, losing Mastodons in the corner and allowing open lanes in the paint.
At one point during Fort Wayne’s early rally, which again swelled to as many as 10 points midway through the first period and 12 in the second, a sign rose from the Fort Wayne student section along the baseline reading: “President Trump — so there’s a chance.” Minutes later, chants of “OVER-RATED” began bellowing out from that same group.
Even defensive whiz OG Anunoby was out of sorts on this night. Anunoby went scoreless in 13 minutes, and afterwards, Crean revealed that the sophomore had developed a sickness sometime Tuesday afternoon.
“We tried to push him through,” Crean said, “but he didn’t have it.”
On the offensive end, Fort Wayne doubled down on Bryant in the post while IU’s shooters hit only three of their first 15 3-point attempts of the night. It didn’t get much better from there.
Indiana took a brief lead four minutes into the second half when Bryant completed a three-point play to put the Hoosiers up 43-42. But a spurt of back-to-back turnovers by Johnson and Devonte Green helped Fort Wayne to a six-point run leading into the first media timeout of the half. That lead was back to 10 by the second media timeout, at which point IU’s lackadaisical approach was at its peak.
The Hoosiers were able to answer with an 8-0 run, getting as close as 62-60 with six minutes to play. Fort Wayne’s Kason Harrell and Newkirk traded 3’s in the final two minutes to keep the Mastodon lead at two points.
After he was fouled on a putback with 19.1 seconds remaining in regulation, Bryant went to the line and sank both free throws to force overtime.
It was the final IU highlight of the night.
A sea of crimson T-shirts filled the 13,000 seat arena, and long before the game tipped, a phalanx of fans in IU garb crowded the Hoosiers’ side of the court during warmups to take photos of the team as it began warmups. When IU’s team emerged from its locker room tunnel and ran onto the floor prior to tipoff, the arena erupted in a roar. Bryant raised both hands, motioned to each side of the gym and signaled for more.
This was a road game in name alone.
The only thing missing from the game experience was Assembly Hall public address announcer Chuck Crabb. During pregame introductions, the Hoosiers were greeted to Assembly Hall staple “Where the Streets Have No Name” by the band U2. The jumbotron above center court also showed a pregame IU hype video similar to the one shown before games in Bloomington.
But by the end of the night, all the hype belonged to Fort Wayne.
“We don’t like the outcome,” Blackmon said. “So that’s definitely what we have to go back and do. We have to go back and learn from it”