ATLANTA — At one point midway through the second half, irate by a string of six turnovers in seven minutes, Tom Crean slammed a clipboard against the court, sending papers flying.
Now, the frustration of the season is finally over.
A 75-63 loss to No. 6 Georgia Tech on Tuesday in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament ended the season for No. 3 Indiana. By the end of the night, the Hoosiers walked off the court for the final time crestfallen and defeated, a season of promise now officially declared dead.
There would be no salvaging this campaign through an empty trip to the NIT, where the Hoosiers looked the same as they had throughout much of the season — sloppy, inattentive to detail and, too often, out of sorts.
A terrible start and a poor finish by Indiana closed the books on what will be remembered as a year of unmet promise for a team that went from No. 3 nationally to No. 3 seed in the NIT to out of games to discover the potential that it was never able to tap.
Tuesday offered one final illustration of just how far this team must go.
“I’m proud of the resiliency of this team this year,” Crean said. “Obviously, the record wasn’t what we wanted. We had great wins, we had tough losses and we were in a ton of games that didn’t go our way at the very end. We have to learn to grow from that.”
The No. 6 seed Yellow Jackets scored 22 points off 16 Indiana turnovers — or roughly 30 percent of their total offense — and relied on one of the nation’s top defensive approaches to send Indiana home after only one tournament game.
The Hoosiers, who trailed by seven points at halftime, fought back to take a two-point lead four minutes into the final period, but fell into old rotten habits late to end the season.
“We didn’t get off to a great start, then we got back in it and there’s absolutely no reason to be as late as we were a couple times defensively on coming off the ball and allowing them shots,” Crean said. “But we got back in it, like we do. The turnovers hurt us. The lack of — and it wasn’t like it was going to change 30 games in where there were one or two guys who were going to take the mantle of the team. We made too many mistakes and we had to switch defenses.”
Josh Okogie led four Jackets (18-15) in double figures with 24 points. Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers posted a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Juwan Morgan led the Hoosiers (18-16) with 14 points.
The Yellow Jackets didn’t waste any time jumping into zone — both of the 2-3 and 1-3-1 varieties — as the Hoosiers struggled to find their point of attack. Georgia Tech used a 10-0 run early in the first half to take an early 12-4 lead.
Things got much worse from there as IU suffered from a nearly six-minute stretch that saw them go scoreless on 11 consecutive field goal attempts and fall down 17-4.
“We weren’t nearly as physical enough as we wanted at the top of the zone,” Crean said. “We didn’t play through the middle enough. We really wanted to flood underneath. A couple times we did. We just stand too much. We stand. It’s mind-boggling to me because we don’t practice that way. We wanted to get under the zone.”
Instead, it took yet another spark this season from IU’s freshmen trio of De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green and Curtis Jones to hep the Hoosiers settle in and climb back. Green got it going with some hustle, stealing the ball from Tradric Jackson then dishing to James Blackmon Jr. for a quick assist that started an 11-2 run and pushed IU to within 19-15 midway through the first period.
A halfcourt steal by Jones, who dished to Blackmon for a layup, helped Indiana tie the game at 24-all with four minutes remaining in the half. But the Hoosiers, however, missed their final six shot attempts of the half, going without a field goal during the last 4:19 of the period and trailed 34-27 at halftime.
An 8-0 Indiana run early in the second half helped give the Hoosiers their first lead since the opening minutes. After Blackmon hit his first 3 of the game at the 17:01 mark of the half, Thomas Bryant followed with a dunk on the next possession.
IU followed with its span of six turnovers in seven minutes, allowing the Jackets to build their lead back to eight points. Indiana never creeped any closer than that during the final seven minutes of regulation.
“The thing to me is we have to get better with the ball, we’ve got to get better with the decision making, we’ve got to get stronger with the ball, we’ve got to get better with our finishing,” Crean said. “Those are things we’ve got to improve.”
And the Hoosiers, themselves, are vowing to make the necessary changes entering an off-season of potential change. Blackmon, Bryant and injured forward OG Anunoby may each weigh their professional futures. Senior forward Collin Hartman must decide if he wants to continue playing basketball at all.
When the dust settles, Indiana will reconcile one final time with the shortcomings that doomed its season and look to start anew with this year of frustration far behind it.
“It’s a big disappointment, but you can’t really (dwell) on it that much,” Morgan said. “Just like coach Crean preaches every day, there’s always a new opportunity. As we get back home, there’s still work to be done.”