Column: Mental game will make the difference for Hoosiers
By Avi Zaleon
IU doesn’t lose at home. It didn’t when then-No.1 Kentucky or then-No.2 Ohio State came to Bloomington en route to a perfect 11-0 record in Assembly Hall.
The Hoosiers shoot the three. Entering Thursday, IU Coach Tom Crean’s squad was the No.1 team in the country when it came to three-point percentage.
And finally, a banged-up Minnesota team does not win conference games. The Golden Gophers, without leading scorer Trevor Mbakwe, had gone 0-4 in Big Ten play prior to facing IU.
Well, common logic, along with the Hoosiers, lost Thursday, as No.8 IU was upset at home, 77-74 at the hands of Tubby Smith’s Gophers.
In their first game this season playing as a top-10 program, fresh off a three-game winning streak since their first loss of the season, the Hoosiers’ mental game was simply not there.
“We played hard, but we didn’t play as smart as we needed to,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “We were prepared, our guys had really good practices, but as I look at the game now, we weren’t playing on edge the way that we have.”
I don’t think Crean’s players heads got too big. That wasn’t the problem.
The national attention garnered from being in the spotlight as America’s darling comeback story from a year ago didn’t mean the Hoosiers were suddenly puffing out their chests and bragging.
But I think at times Thursday, this team expected that epic comeback victory to happen and when it wasn’t happening, the Hoosiers began forcing things.
After shooting just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc in the first half, IU continued to be stone cold from three in the second, converting just 3-of-10, two of which were from marksman Matt Roth.
One of the only bright spots for IU was the play of freshman forward Cody Zeller, who led all scorers with 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Zeller was a winner at Washington High School. He understands what it means to expect victories.
“It’s different for all of them,” Crean said. “We don’t have a lot of guys that have come from winning backgrounds, so when you start to win –as some of the younger guys have- when you start to win, as things change around you, your mindset can’t change and they’ve got tot grow through that.”
Now some air is let out of IU’s hotair balloon and the ground is once again visible. Suddenly, all those little people in the Big Ten are much closer than they originally appeared.
“We know we have to bring it every night,” IU junior guard Jordan Hulls said. “It’s the Big Ten, every team is good in this league.”
Moving forward, winning the mental game is what may prove the difference between a strong push into March or a midseason breakdown.
“It really comes down to the mindset,” Crean said. “We’re not the most talented team, even in our league, not even close, but when what you have plays on edge and plays with a togetherness on defense and communication and that ball is moving, you’re going to play better.”