Spartans hold off Hoosiers, 63-60

In this final month of the regular season, Indiana is a team wrestling with dueling truths.

The Hoosiers are a hard-playing bunch, and yet they’re a group that struggles to make the winning plays when they’re needed most.

It makes results like Saturday’s 63-60 loss to No. 5 Michigan State all the more difficult for Indiana to stomach.

IU yet again challenged a ranked opponent on its home floor. It pushed around the Spartans, fighting them off the glass and refusing to back down despite the steep difference in size and talent.

But the winning plays — often times the simple plays — continue to elude the Hoosiers (12-12, 5-7 Big Ten) at critical times. Now Indiana is in the midst of a four-game losing skid as it approaches its latest tight turnaround with a Monday night game at Rutgers.

“Right now, we’re still trying to figure out how to make those dagger plays to find a way to win it, and just wasn’t able to do it tonight,” IU coach Archie Miller said.

There was no questioning Indiana’s effort on Saturday, not when it outrebounded the most talented team in the Big Ten, 53-29. After the Spartans (22-3, 10-2) throttled the Hoosiers two weeks ago in East Lansing, pushing them around and delivering an early knockout blow, IU approached Saturday’s game eager to prove it was up for the challenge.

Juwan Morgan, who at times carried IU on his back, posted a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Freddie McSwain, making his first start of the season and only the second of his career, delivered a whopping 16 rebounds as the Hoosiers finished with 25 offensive boards.

“In East Lansing they punked us,” Morgan said. “In a few words, that’s what happened. We came to this mindset, I know me, Freddie, Collin (Hartman) and Justin (Smith), we talked amongst each other and we were, like, ‘This can’t happen.'”

In Bloomington, it didn’t.

The Hoosiers forced Michigan State center Nick Ward into early foul trouble and brought fatigue to the game of Spartans forward Jaren Jackson.

“We got beat up,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

As hard as Morgan and McSwain battled, the Hoosiers were once again let down by their backcourt.

Indiana’s guards combined to shoot 6-for-34 on the night, an abysmal shooting performance when the Hoosiers could least afford one. The only bright spot in that backcourt was Devonte Green, whose six assists helped feed a frontcourt willing to carry its part of the load.

The inconsistency from Indiana’s veteran backcourt has been one of this season’s biggest disappointments, and it yet again struggled to step forward and lift this IU team in a winnable game at home.

“Right now, you take a look at the backcourt of (Josh) Newkirk, Rob (Johnson) and Devonte, those numbers from shooting the ball, those guys have to be more accountable,” Miller said. “They’ve got to play better at times. But it’s not because of a lack of attitude or a lack of want-to. It’s just we’re not that good right now in terms of making shots and being able to make plays. We’ve got to get a little more confidence.”

Morgan and McSwain certainly had that winning mindset on Saturday, and on a night when Indiana shot 29 percent from the field and 21 percent from 3-point range, those two tried to will the Hoosiers to a most improbable victory.

Morgan, especially, helped give IU a puncher’s chance. His free throws out of the final media timeout cut what had been a 10-point IU deficit midway through the second half to 58-56 with 3:10 left to play.

Morgan split two more free throws to pull Indiana within one, then McSwain had two free throws for the lead with 1:38 left but missed both.

The Hoosiers were still within a single point when Michigan State sharpshooter Matt McQuaid drilled a 3-pointer with 1:03 remaining to extend the Spartans’ lead to 61-57. McQuad made four 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 12 points for the Spartans.

That Indiana was even in the ballgame late was remarkable considering where it came from.

The Hoosiers endured an ugly offensive start to the contest, going nearly nine minutes without a field goal midway through the first period, missing 12 consecutive shots during that span. The Hoosiers, eager to play physical against a bigger opponent, followed with an 11-3 run to get within 23-20 entering the final media timeout.

But coming out of the timeout, the Hoosiers went the final 3:51 of the first period without a field goal, missing each of their final seven shots of the period.

All the while, Indiana played hard, fighting for every opportunity to close its deficit.

That IU was willing and able to battle against a Big Ten contender is encouraging.

That it once again couldn’t finish left a familiar feeling of frustration.

“I thought they really fought hard and played hard,” Miller said. “We’re getting, especially against some really good teams right now, the last two to three minutes of just having to find a way to make a couple of plays. I think that’s what teams who know how to win do.”

21 comments

  1. Free throws.

    MSU – 8-17 47.1%
    IU – 18-25 72%

    MSU could of beat us by more than 3 or IU could of won. Always comes down to free throws.

  2. Lady Luck wasn’t in Assembly Hall for the Hoosiers last night, you would think the law of averages would have resulted in a couple of the three’s being made. Tom Crean’s hot shooting guard recruits were on display last night and couldn’t hit 30% of their shots. Our point guard couldn’t hit a wide open teammate last night. Having a close game has to be very painful for Coach Miller to see our guards give the game away with poor mental decisions and poor shooting.

  3. Ben_M-

    Missing three out of four free throws in the last minute and change(McSwain’s pair and Morgan hitting one of two)…killed what should have been a pivotal win.
    Free throw ineptness has cost the Hoosiers a lot of games. Inexplicable and inexcusable at this level of basketball. You bust your butts for forty minutes and you can’t make the straight line gifts standing still….? Last time i checked, It’s nicknamed the “charity” stripe…It’s cost this team enough to be a toll booth.

    Question: In his nine years at the helm, who did Crean recruit outside of Indiana borders who could really shoot the ball? I can only think of one transfer….Roth.

    I think Jeremiah Rivers could outgun our current guards…and I thought he was the biggest bricklayer to ever grace McCracken.

    I honestly thought the shooting woes were mostly mental…and I was correct. It was Crean’s brain that brought these horrific strokes. “The shooting will come…The shooting will come. Look at his wing span..Look at his hops…Look at his handle…Look at the way he runs the floor…..Next level material. The shooting will come.”

  4. You can see the adjustments that other teams are making due to how poor our guards shoot the ball. They’re stacking the paint and allowing ball movement on the perimeter. Dakitch was his normal painful self. No wonder why he loved Crean. He thought Indiana’s solution was to just reverse the ball. Didn’t need to do that, because MSU didn’t care. Reverse the ball to Robert Johnson who missed 7 wide open shots? Reverse to Newkirk who couldn’t throw it in the ocean? Hartman, who can even make a pass without throwing it in the stands?

    Toughness and grit is the only thing keeping these guys in any games. Rutgers isn’t going to be a cakewalk. With our poor shooting, not a single game will

    Did anyone read Osterman’s column on Crean’s recruiting classes from 2013 – now? What a disaster.

    https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/college/indiana/2018/02/01/insider-what-iu-basketball-missing-and-how-got-here/1088642001/

  5. I think the criticism of Crean’s recruiting is fair and he deserves it for not recruiting any true shooters in the last two classes. But to be completely fair, we also have to admit that these players have not shown any signs of improving their outside shooting or free throw shooting skills since Miller took over. If anything, they may be getting worse.

    I honestly don’t know if a college coach can improve a young man’s shooting skills to any significant degree by the time they reach the age of 19 or 20. Can Miller or anyone on his staff convert a bad shooter into an average shooter? Can Miller or any of assistants transform an average shooter into a good shooter? Is it a matter of instruction on their form, or simply a matter of the players maturing and learning how to select better shots from experience? And how do you teach a terrible free throw shooter to improve to the point where he can make 70% of his free throw attempts? I don’t have the answers, but my guess is the team’s returning players are going to be spending hundreds of hours on their shooting and free throw shooting this off-season.

  6. I also believe that our shooting woes are due in part to our lack of true big men with length right now. When you loose a 6’10” center who was really improving his game, it affects everything else. We really don’t have an “inside – outside” game right now. Once the ball goes deep into the paint, it stays in the paint, and what should be relatively easy buckets turn into a struggle and a lot of missed or blocked shots. Right now, only one of our players is any good at finishing at the rim or getting the easy baskets, and he’s only 6’8″. And that just makes every other aspect of our offense harder.

    But to remain somewhat positive, you have to love how these guys continue to battle and scrap against teams with bigger and more skilled athletes. And that is significant.

  7. This is unscientific, but I’d say happy the missed the attempts our guards take are wide open looks. Archie’s offense had produced plenty of open looks. Juwan Morgan has torn it up inside. In fact, the opposite is true. Defenses are doubling and shading in towards Juwan because they know our guards can’t shoot.

    None of these guys were great shooters at any point. Robert Johnson has really regressed, but even he wasn’t that great at his best.

  8. Want to talk about Miller and the other coaches improving the shooting. let me share a comment that Jordy Hulls made in an interview. Jordy was asked about any funny about the four years he was at I U and being coached by Tom Crean. Hull’s comment was, that he NEVER saw Tom Crean ever take a shot at the basket. I wonder who was coaching the shooters.

    1. If Jordy said that, it is very revealing. This being said, I have two observations: One, even though these players are recruited to play D1 ball, everyone still needs to remember these are 18 -22 year old kids for the most part. Some of the criticism of them personally is going way over the top. I seriously doubt if vast majority of the active posters could have played at half the level of these kids.

      Secondly, I think the staff and team are getting just about all they can with the mismatch of skills on this roster. It is a very unbalanced team personnel wise and this is the root of the problems. You can have poor shooter who can still contribute in other ways. You just cannot have a team full of poor shooters and expect to win much. Most of these kids could probably play with other D1 schools and make useful contributions. That is, assuming their weaknesses were balanced by other teammates strengths.

      This team’s weakness are two-fold, not enough size and no one who can shoot the ball well. Can’t coach those two weaknesses out of a team, no matter how good a coach you might be. Best you can do is compensate where you can which is what is happening. The team is for the most part working their tails off. May not win any games this year, but it can sure start a tradition of how the game is played at IU for future years. If so, this year’s team may well contribute more to the success of future years than anyone in the future. Simply by creating a culture in the program of hard work and hustle.

  9. We haven’t seen the wins we’d like to see but but some of this stuff borders on magic. How on Earth did the Hoosier not only win the battle of the boards but they destroyed Michigan State.

    How?

    If Romeo was a freshman on this team we’d very possibly have another 5 wins and tournaments seedings would be being discussed. These guys collectively can’t put the ball in the ocean. It’s really quite amazing. Jeremiah Rivers should give them a shooting clinic.

    How we are still in the mix in the B1G is simply amazing.

  10. Why call in a marksman specialist? Derek Elston is here. He is a jack of all trades…He’s survived it all. Nothing get’s between Derek and his Kelvin Crean’s. He’s transformed himself from the Tipton Tattooed Tripper to Mr. Business Attire with clipboard. There is no Hoosier hipper. He probably even know how to sew on a zipper.
    Peter Jurkin could play hoops worth a crap…but Derek taught him how to play baseball. He’s done everything humanly possible to stay on a Hoosier bench from 3-way…to Movement Heyday…to Archie Way….He can’t help out during practice. He’s our Jason Statham…He’s gone bad ass to business class. You can do it, Derek. Quit Jerkin around. Put down the clipboard and break out the muscle t and the jumper. Fix these bricklayers.

  11. Watch Elston from the stripe….Natural stroke. Effortless. Walk in the park.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD1pGS5kSr8
    He’s on our bench…He’s at practices. During the MSU broadcast, Dakich said there’s no on from Indiana on our team who can shoot the ball. He said they(shooters from Indiana) all went somewhere else. Wrong!, Danny Boy. Derek Elston is on our staff and on our team. He’s an Indiana guy. He’s got a fine stroke. There is no excuse for this team to be bricklaying free throws. Inexcusable.

  12. Still must pick your poison….Verdell was in the backcourt during Zeller’s first year. For every triple we were splashing through the nets(Hulls, Watford, Elston), we’d have a pair of mindless turnovers. Gain three points and subtract four….

    Can’t remember the last time we really had a pair of dynamite guards….side-by-side. Batman and Robin. Captain and Tennille.
    Wilmont and Calloway…..? Gordon and Bassett….? Alford and Smart…? Buckner and Wilkerson…..Isiah and Wittman?
    And then when we do have a really high level backcourt, we’re absent the dominance inside.
    And then when it does all look like there is a year on the horizon where all the pieces will come together and we’ll have true balance …and exceptional talent top to bottom….and a solid front court with a rare exceptional backcourt? Then somebody (or somebodies) departs for the NBA.

    This movie is getting old. A walk down 3-point memory lane?
    I give you the downpour of bullseyes from beyond the arc against Kent State. First two buckets by Fife…splash. splash. And the rest was history. And, oh, OHHHH MY! , was Dick Enberg a joy to hear on the recorded replay when I got home.
    15 Hoosier triples in the game….Yes, I said 15. I was there. It was cool. ….and it was coming off a miraculous win against #1 Duke. And it all happened in the state of Kentucky. I guess that’s my Hoosier weekend in heaven.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRemLNQpGeM

  13. Calling Dr. Kyle Horsnby…..Calling Dr. Kyle Hornsby. We understand you’re in the left atrium side of Simon Skjodt….Guards showing no sign of life….or Fife. Flat-lined at 3-point line. No evidence of a stroke. Bring your jumper cables….STATS.

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