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COLUMN: The Hoosiers were bullied in the final minutes



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Senior guard Robert Johnson drives the ball for a layup during the Hoosiers' game against the Purdue Boilermakers on Sunday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers were up at halftime, 37-35, but failed to close the game out in the final minutes. Evan De Stefano Buy Photos

The rift between IU and No. 3 Purdue couldn't have been wider in the final minutes with the Boilermakers showing exactly why they are one of the best teams in college basketball.

The difference came with 4:01 left in the game when the Hoosiers could only muster up one field goal and a free throw in the closing minutes. IU was outscored 9-3 during this time, allowing Purdue to win 74-67.

Throughout the night, senior guards Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk were playing some of the best basketball of their seasons. Johnson in particular was filling up the stat sheet with 21 points on 50-percent shooting, six rebounds and three assists. Newkirk was having a rather steady game, one of clean passes throughout the night and good decision-making without too many mistakes.

As soon as senior forward Freddie McSwain Jr. hit his final layup of the game, dissolving the Hoosier deficit to just one point at the 4:01 mark, everything changed.

IU shot just one for five the rest of the way and padded this stat with two turnovers by Johnson and Newkirk.

The Hoosiers looked rushed, panicked and uncomfortable, even in front of their home crowd.

There were separate occasions where IU looked as if it needed a timeout just to get its feet underneath itself. Fatigue looked like it played a factor near the end of the contest, especially because just seven players saw significant minutes all night.

The trend of late turnovers in tight games continued for the Hoosiers on Sunday afternoon in a game that was in their grasps once again, but slipped out in the final moments.

 "I just think we didn't do a good job of executing," Johnson said. "That's a part of executing down the stretch. You know, that's something that we have to get better at." 

The rotation was key tonight for the Hoosiers, especially in the frontcourt where the combination of Morgan and McSwain had the task of slowing down the big man for Purdue, senior center Isaac Haas.

"Going into the game we just knew that with the size disadvantage we knew that we couldn't panic," Morgan said. "We couldn't just foul them — didn't want to give them 3-point plays."

Even though the Hoosiers did limit the amount of Purdue 3-pointers made, it was the battle in the paint that proved crucial to keep the Boilermakers afloat throughout the afternoon.

Purdue made just five threes on 28-percent shooting, but Haas seemed to be getting whatever he wanted at important moments in the game.

Haas did his part to put his team in the best position to win with a huge presence in the middle of the paint, where he thrived Sunday afternoon.

McSwain had one of his best defensive games of the season, limiting Haas' production when he would sub in for Morgan.

Even when the defense was at its best, Haas still seemed to find a way to put the ball in the net whether it was on a dunk or an easy lay-in.

Neither Hoosier could stop Haas in the end, when the Boilermaker forward scored two baskets after he subbed in with 2:57 left in the contest.

He and sophomore guard Carsen Edwards led the final push to ultimately slide past IU in a game that saw the Boilermakers exit Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall with a road win.

There are still question marks that stain this loss in similar ways to the Duke and Louisville games earlier in the season. The execution down the stretch can't be overshadowed any longer, especially when it comes at the hands of self-inflicted wounds.

Decision-making has to improve and the seniors on this squad, especially Newkirk and Johnson, have to be a strength late in games rather than a weakness.

It's a matter of mental toughness and focus. While fatigue played a role in the late collapse, it still doesn't justify the way the Hoosiers finish big games with the hopes of winning in their control.

@michrami_

michrami@indiana.edu

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