IOWA CITY, Iowa — Thomas Bryant ran both hands along his scalp as he walked off the floor at the end of the night, reconciling the reality of further disappointment.
It’s not getting any better for Indiana, which once again Tuesday failed to win the close game it needed to claim in order to salvage this season of profound frustration.
A 96-90 overtime loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena stood as a microcosm of IU’s season, featuring a hot start, a lull midway through and a truly forgettable finish. There were the same maddening errors, missed block outs and segments that have prevented this team previously from fixing the downward trajectory it can’t seem to shake.
Tuesday was yet another example that for this team, coming close is far from being good enough.
“This is our 12th game where it’s three points or less with under a minute to go,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “It’s disheartening that we play as hard as we play … and to not have it go our way.”
Short of a Big Ten Tournament run, Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes appear dashed. Even earning a bid to the National Invitation Tournament will require further work from an IU team that’s now dropped five in a row and seven of its last eight.
Iowa leading scorer Peter Jok helped ensure Indiana’s skid continued in Iowa City. Jok scored 35 points, while setting a Hawkeye program record with 22 made free throws in 23 attempts. The senior, who made only six field goals, helped Iowa make 39 of its 47 free throw attempts on a night when the Hawkeyes shot merely 5-for-24 from 3-point range.
As a team, Indiana went 16-for-19 at the line. Afterwards, Crean refused to answer questions about the disparity.
“The last thing I’m going to do is put myself in any situation for any fallback or pushback,” Crean said. “I’m not doing that.”
Jok scored 15 points in overtime, including 13 at the free throw line. Meanwhile, three turnovers and an undisciplined approach prevented Indiana from pulling out the win it desperately needed.
“We just get away from the fundamental base, post feeding or driving baseline when the post is loaded,” Crean said about IU’s repeated mistakes. “It’s not how we practice, but what I gotta look back at is, at the end of the day, we’re right there to end the game and it goes overtime and we don’t win it with the mistakes that are made. But then you look at the stat sheet and I don’t know how we were in the game, to be honest with you. But we were.”
Credit a hot start that saw Josh Newkirk score seven of IU’s first nine points, helping the Hoosiers to a 12-2 lead at the first media timeout. The start was equal parts exceptional play by Indiana and abysmal execution by Iowa, which needed nearly three minutes before scoring its first basket.
Indiana’s starting backcourt of Newkirk, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson combined for 20 of the Hoosiers’ first 22 points. Johnson led IU with 19 points, while Blackmon added 18.
All three guards, along with Juwan Morgan, eventually fouled out.
Late in the first half, Iowa introduced a zone and pressured IU ball handlers as Indiana struggled to find a solution.
A 12-0 scoring run by the Hawkeyes coupled with a nearly five-minute scoring drought for the Hoosiers allowed Iowa to tie the game at 26-all with five minutes remaining in the half.
IU went the final 3:33 of the half without a point, appearing panicked against the zone. The Hoosiers, who committed only two turnovers by the midway mark of the half, had five errors in the final eight minutes. It all allowed Iowa to turn what was an early 13-point IU lead into a tenuous 33-32 Hoosier halftime advantage.
“When they went to the zone, we got a little stagnant,” Crean said. “That’s not the idea. The idea is not to be on the wing. The idea is to be in the corner, or play through the high post and reverse it. We felt that the middle was a great place to attack, but it was too easy to cover us at times in the first half, because we didn’t get down into the corner. We got stagnant.”
Both teams were in the bonus less than seven minutes into the second half. The Hoosiers had six players carrying three personal fouls by the under-8 media timeout, at which point they held a five-point lead.
A quick Hawkeye swing, capped by a 3-pointer by Jordan Bohannon tied the game at 55-all with seven minutes remaining, but the Hoosiers answered by making their next six field goal attempts. That stretch included back-to-back 3s by Johnson and Blackmon that helped create an eight-point lead with 4:46 left.
The Hoosiers gave that separation right back, following that spurt with a truly ugly stretch that saw a couple lackadaisical errors by Freddie McSwain and Bryant turn into four quick points for the Hawkeyes, who tied the game at 70-all on an alley-oop dunk by Tyler Cook with 2:46 to play.
Another dunk by Cook 36 seconds later gave Iowa its first lead of the night at 72-71.
Jok and Newkirk traded free throws down the stretch to force a 75-75 tie with 25 seconds remaining, before Bryant came dangerously close to fouling Cook at the rim on the final play of regulation.
No whistle was blown as Cook’s last-second attempt missed. It didn’t much matter.
On a night when Indiana was once again doomed by a familiar ending, the Hoosiers were left to walk out of the arena pondering once again what has become of their season.