Short-handed Hoosiers need a win vs. Penn State

Indiana’s mid-season slide has come to this — a must-win home game against Penn State.

Back-to-back road losses have put the Hoosiers against the wall entering the second half of the Big Ten season.

With five of the final nine games scheduled away from Bloomington, Wednesday’s 6:30 game against the Nittany Lions is a critical opportunity for IU to find an important home win, re-establish its footing and continue to learn how to play without its leading scorer.

“They’re going through a real life lesson right now,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “They really are. When you deal with the adversity of losing not only players, but key players, absolutely go-to players on the team, it forces everybody up a level of responsibility — some more than others. Whether they’re ready for it or not is an individual determination based on where they’re at confidence-wise.”

So the Hoosiers will once again be without James Blackmon Jr., who suffered what’s being called a lower leg injury last Thursday at Michigan.

Blackmon’s loss continues to sting, both in terms of recognizing how toothless Indiana’s offense looked without him Sunday at Northwestern, and in terms of remembering how he bailed out the Hoosiers from a near-collapse two weeks ago in State College.

While Thomas Bryant did his part to fill the void in production against the Wildcats on Sunday, tying his career high with 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, those around him didn’t do enough.

Juwan Morgan appeared far from 100 percent after returning from his foot injury last week, moving across court with a noticeable hobble. Meanwhile, fellow starters Josh Newkirk, Robert Johnson and Devonte Green combined to shoot 6-for-28 from the field.

Sunday saw the Hoosiers turn in a season-worst 0.87 points per possession. For the year, they’re scoring 1.18 points per possession.

But Indiana’s adversity is not focused solely on the offensive end. Its defense continues to be a non-factor when the Hoosiers have needed it most.

Especially with Blackmon sinking shots, IU had the ability to overcome deficits and mask many of the holes and missed assignments on the defensive end of the floor.

Now, the Hoosiers are still trying to put enough good segments together to prove they can play winning basketball despite their flaws — and their lengthy injury report.

“It’s not easy because we have young guys that are absolutely not even close to being ready for what we’re asking them to do,” Crean said. “We have older guys that are not ready to have it ratcheted up like that, but at the same time, it’s in real time and you have to play games and you have to practice. You have to improve, and that’s where we’re at.”

That means bringing along the underclassmen, especially IU’s freshmen guards.

Devonte Green made his first career start at Northwestern, and while he did a decent job at times guarding Wildcats point guard Bryant McIntosh, Green still needs to simplify his offensive profile.

Like Morgan, Curtis Jones was also playing at a less than ideal level on Sunday. Jones injured his ankle during Friday’s practice and played merely three minutes against Northwestern.

“I hope he plays better,” Crean said. “He was definitely limited the other day. We could see it early on.”

Regardless of the injury report, entering February, Indiana needs to rely more on its cast of underclassmen — a point that’s not lost on them.

“I think that goes for the whole team,” Morgan said. “Freshmen are not freshmen. Sophomores are not sophomores. Juniors are not juniors. We have to continue to push and grow as a unit.”

In the Nittany Lions, the Hoosiers will see a team that can score with balance — and also one that has been similarly sloppy.

Both IU and Penn State are averaging 13.8 turnovers per game. Only Rutgers (15.6) is turning in more mistakes per contest.

After Indiana pulled out the last-second 78-75 victory at the Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 18, Penn State went on to lose its next two games against Purdue and Wisconsin before beating Illinois, 71-67, at home on Saturday. That win, however, saw the Lions nearly blow a 22-point second-half advantage.

IU flirted with its own collapse in State College two weeks ago, and realizes this Penn State squad is no pushover.

At the same time, Indiana is also looking at itself and its own flaws, recognizing that they need to change things for the better, no matter which players are on the floor.

“You just have to continue to keep getting better and better, and keep improving,” Crean said. “That’s what we’re working on. That’s what our whole focus is.”

NOTE: Sophomore forward OG Anunoby underwent successful surgery Tuesday to repair his injured right knee.

3 comments

  1. Sounds to me like Coach Crean is blaming his players. That has got to go over well in the locker room and build synergy. Juwan sounds delusional. This group of individuals are in disarray and will need serious help from the referees tonight. They’ll get it.

  2. Sounds like coach is writing off this season. I don’t understand how a team can practice some during the summer, and start practice in October and have a bunch of cup cake games to use the back up players to gain game experience,(slightly above their high school games) and now its February 1st and we are still aren’t ready . If the I U Football signing function, wasn’t being held today, I don’t know if I would used my season tickets and travel the 200 mile round trip for the game tonight, with basketball team is in such a poor state.

  3. We need a “go-to” coach instead of a broken record.
    If 9 years of excuses manifested on the skin, this guy would have full-blown leprosy.
    -Didn’t recruit enough shooters, Mr. Excuse.
    -Didn’t recruit enough high b-ball IQ guys, Mr. Excuse.
    -Primarily focused on finding ‘diamonds in the rough,’ Mr. Excuse(if these few are successful in the NBA, it pads the only thing you’ve got on your resume).
    -Can’t land top in-state talent, Mr. Excuse.
    -Constantly forced to overplay behind-the-curve, “upside,” phenoms during soft scheduling periods(which likely contributes to injury), Mr. Excuse.
    -You would have the worst 2010-17 record in the Big 10 if not for landing one Indiana “everything hinges” recruit, Mr. Excuse.
    -Whether 100% healthy, or stymied by unfortunate injuries, your teams have been plagued by poor communication, deplorable defensive efforts, embarrassing level of turnovers, and less than inspiring results at your coveted appearances at Sweet 16’s, Mr. Excuse.
    -You have kept your job because you were part of the committee to hire your own AD, Mr. Excuse.

    What you need to do is stop talking in common soundbites we are all already far too prepared to hear from your overworked tongue…..Maybe think of being a humble teacher instead of a sideline post-it note buffoon….?….an example of someone “never daunted”(I think that one is in our fight song)…?…….a proud conveyor of Hoosier “grit” absent from the candy stripes during your entire tenure, Mr. Excuse?

    These are Just a few suggestions…One hundred more would be quite elementary to provide.

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