WASHINGTON, D.C. --- IU men’s basketball’s offense was virtually unstoppable in its previous two games. Then it ran into the Wisconsin Badgers in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
IU shot a combined 59 percent from the field in the regular-season finale at Ohio State and in the second-round matchup against Iowa. On Friday night, the Hoosiers were held to just 41 percent.
IU was down 15 with eight minutes to play but didn’t go away. The Hoosiers cut the deficit to four with 80 seconds left until Badger senior guard Bronson Koenig’s layup with 48 seconds to go put the dagger in the Hoosiers.
IU fell to Wisconsin, 70-60, at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The defeat ultimately ended IU's chance at an NCAA Tournament bid and ended the season at 18-15 overall.
“Our guys didn’t flinch in the sense of coming back,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “We kept coming. Unfortunately, that last play Koenig made at the rim, that was an absolute dagger. They made timely shots, but he led the way. Koenig is capable of doing so much. Unfortunately tonight that happened to us a little bit.”
Shooting was a strong suit for IU entering the game, and it looked as if that would carry IU to a win at the start. IU started off 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and junior guard James Blackmon Jr., who had 23 points against Iowa, registered 10 points in the first eight minutes of play.
The ball movement and pace of the game was to the Hoosiers' liking, and IU was up four points with 10 minutes left in the first half. Then all of a sudden, Wisconsin took control and slowed the game down.
In the final eight minutes of the first half the Badgers went on a 14-5 run and the hot Hoosiers at the start limped into the break down six. Although IU was able to contain Big Ten first-team selection sophomore forward Ethan Happ to four points in the first half, Wisconsin’s impeccable ball movement and patience allowed them to find open shots from all around the floor.
“We slowed our tempo down, and we let them get us into the slower pace they wanted to play, and it wasn’t beneficial for us,” junior guard Robert Johnson said. “It’s always harder to speed the game up than it is to slow it down, but at the same time we didn’t do a lot of things that we do on a daily basis consistently, so I think that falls back on us.”
It was all Wisconsin to begin the second half as Happ came alive in the final 20 minutes for 10 of his 14 points.
The Badger big men also outmatched the Hoosiers down low. After not missing a shot against Iowa the night before, freshman forward De’Ron Davis was held to two points on 1-of-6 shooting and sophomore center Thomas Bryant also contributed just two points.
As the Badgers pushed their lead to 15 with eight minutes to play in the second half, the Hoosiers wouldn’t go down silently. Down 11 with less than three minutes, IU went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to four, but Koenig pushed the Wisconsin lead back to six on a layup and a costly turnover from Johnson after sealed the win for the Badgers.
“They weren’t going to go away, our guys weren’t,” Crean said. “We were gaining confidence. You just hold your breath sometimes when Koenig has the ball. We didn’t guard him well enough. We didn’t guard the shot well enough.”
The offense that was clicking for IU over the last two games and at the start of Friday’s game had returned in the final minutes but wasn’t able to save the Hoosiers.
IU will now head back to Bloomington now to await its postseason fate, which will likely be a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. Johnson said he’s confident his teammates will respond to whatever their postseason plans are even after falling short of the big dance.
“We just have to wait and see what happens, go home, collect, get better and continue to move forward,” Johnson said. “If you get to put the uniform on and go out and play it shouldn’t be a question of how hard you’re gonna play or what you think it’s worth. At the end of the day we still have to go out there and play.”
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