Following his team’s 81-62 loss at Kentucky (7-2) on Saturday, IU coach Tom Crean said not stopping the cross-state rivals twice was the Hoosiers’ (7-2) downfall at Rupp Arena.
“The statistical difference in the game certainly that stands out to me, and I pointed out so directly to our team was the second-chance points,” he said. “We prepared all week for how good [Josh] Harrellson was on the backboards, as much as we prepared for anyone else on that team.”
Harrellson matched IU’s offensive rebounding effort by himself with six and added six defensive rebounds and 14 points.
IU kept Kentucky to just 36 percent shooting, but the Wildcats pulled down 18 offensive boards in total and outscored the Hoosiers 21-4 in second-chance points.
IU has now fallen to fifth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, and the numbers are still somewhat skewed in its favor. Even after playing at No. 16 Kentucky, the Hoosiers’ strength of schedule ranks 223rd, according to the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings.
IU has won the rebounding battle in all seven home games this season, but the Hoosiers’ highest-ranked opponent at home is Wright State, whom Pomeroy ranks No. 133.
When the team has left Assembly Hall, it’s been a different story.
In two road games this season, the Hoosiers have allowed a combined 32 offensive rebounds and 21 second-chance points in each contest. IU has been outrebounded 77-60 by its hosts and is now 0-2 on the road.
In the first loss at Boston College on Dec. 1, IU was burned by quick 3-point shots on the Eagles’ second opportunities after trimming a 14-point halftime deficit to as small as one point.
It was putbacks, drawn fouls and complete resets of Kentucky’s offense that did the damage Saturday.
Despite the struggles to retain possession, the Hoosiers did their part in responding. They took a lead as large as three points and saw 10 lead changes and seven ties in the second half alone.
IU sophomore forward Christian Watford, who led the team with 19 points and nine rebounds, said was the main difference between the two games.
“We were neck-and-neck with these guys all the way until about the nine- or eight-minute mark,” he said. “At Boston College, we were playing catch-up the whole time. It was just a different type of game.”
The mark Watford referred to was the time between 9:42 and 0:38 in the second half, when the Hoosiers didn’t have a field goal and registered just three points off free throws.
In that time span, Kentucky had four offensive rebounds and cashed in quickly with a layup, a dunk and a drawn foul.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said his team’s ability to score on first or second opportunities opened up things defensively, which helped to shut IU down at the end of the game.
“Part of what you want to do offensively, when you go down and really execute and score a couple and create a gap, it puts more pressure on their offense,” he said. “So now, you can defend, put more pressure on them, they are putting pressure on themselves, and then you go on a run.”
The Hoosiers have a chance to get back on track quickly, as they will not have another road game until Jan. 4. IU senior guard Jeremiah Rivers, who started for the first time this season Saturday, said the loss will not shatter the team’s confidence.
“We have the physical talent, we have the players, we have the depth on the bench, we have the coaches and the game plan. All that is set,” he said. “It’s just really the mental toughness to be able to finish out the games.”
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