INDIANAPOLIS — A frenetic late-game rally almost made up for a disconnected Indiana performance at the Crossroads Classic.
Almost. Not quite.
Disjointed by uncharacteristically poor shooting and uneven defense, No. 9 Indiana couldn’t mend its shortcomings in an 83-78 loss to No. 18 Butler on Saturday in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Couldn’t hit 3-pointers, couldn’t get key stops, couldn’t get it done.
That’s what was disappointing about the result Saturday, IU’s second loss of the season — both of which have come against in-state opponents.
To date, Indiana (8-2) has built a reputation as one of the most potent offensive teams in the nation. The Hoosiers didn’t have enough of that potency available Saturday.
They’ve also shown defensive growth early this season, starting the year at a higher point than they’ve started previous seasons.
But the defensive approach that IU has often shown so far was absent against the Bulldogs (10-1). Butler leading scorer Kelan Martin willed his way to a game-high 28 points, while Kamar Baldwin and Andrew Chrabascz each added 14 of their own.
Through the first nine games, IU’s defense had been trending in the proper direction. The Hoosiers were owning the boards, they were defending the perimeter as well as anyone in the nation and were generally causing issues with their length and depth.
“The most disappointing thing for us today was our defensive shot challenges. Far and away,” Crean said. “I don’t even have to see our film to know it’s the worst we’ve done. It’s the second time this year that we’ve let our lack of offense affect us on the other end, especially in the first half.”
Yet, for all that went wrong for the Hoosiers, this was a one-possession game in the final minute.
IU, which trailed by as many as 16 points early in the second half, got within two with 38 seconds to play. But Tyler Wideman’s easy dunk off an inbounds pass under the basket with 15 seconds remaining extended Butler’s advantage back to four and IU ran out of time to recover.
IU center Thomas Bryant lost Wideman on the play, allowing him an unimpeded move to the basket.
“It was just a misunderstanding with me and my teammates,” Bryant said. “I’ve just got to be better in that moment.”
Crean was no less frustrated.
“I think I could have got the layup at the end if we’re going to stand straight up on that,” the IU coach said. “That didn’t beat us. What beat us is our tenacity with our hands and our communication on ball screens, and they got comfortable. When a team gets comfortable making shots, that rim looks a lot bigger.”
Consider it a wildly inconsistent performance from Indiana, which will have a list of problem areas to review after this one.
The problems started offensively, where IU struggled to find its footing. It went nearly six minutes without a field goal during a mid-first half stretch that saw the Hoosiers miss 10 shots in a row.
Indiana didn’t hit a 3-pointer until the 18:35 mark of the second half, at which point Butler was 7-for-14 from behind the arc. IU’s 0-for-8 first-half performance from the perimeter was a major factor in its 42-28 halftime deficit.
“That’s what we’re upset about, the way we came out in the first half,” said James Blackmon Jr., who led IU with 26 points. “We can’t let that happen. We got in a deficit in the beginning of the game and that put us in a hole. That’s what happened.”
Butler’s lead grew to 16 points on a dunk by Wideman 37 seconds into the second period, until back-to-back baskets by Robert Johnson, including IU’s first 3-pointer, helped the Hoosiers begin cutting away.
By the time OG Anunoby converted a three-point play with 9:46 remaining in regulation, IU was within 62-55 — to that point the closest it had been since late in the first half.
Blackmon was a significant reason for IU’s late offensive flurry, scoring 16 of his 26 points in his final 16 minutes.
Meanwhile, Anunoby saw the bulk of his minutes in the second half. Saturday was his first action since injuring his left ankle late in the Nov. 30 win over North Carolina, and although he didn’t immediately reclaim his starting job, he was the first Hoosier off the bench and later joined IU’s starters on the floor to begin the second half.
At that point, he took the spot of guard Josh Newkirk, who posted an unproductive, and at times reckless, first half.
Newkirk’s 0-for-6 first period was part of a troubled IU offense that forced shots and seldom looked synchronized for sustained stretches.
That empty offensive approach bled into Indiana’s approach to defense, and the Hoosiers never full recovered.
“I think I’m going to be really, really, really disappointed when I look at the film and see the fact that having a hand up is not good enough at this level,” Crean said. “Having a hand up in their face and at the rise of the ball is what this level is all about. It’s correctable because we haven’t done that. That’s one of the reasons our defense has been so good, but today we didn’t have that.”