After freshman guard Maurice Creek was lost for the season, you wondered how the Hoosiers would respond.
Three days later, IU beat Michigan 71-65. On Jan. 17, riding a three-game losing streak consisting of two blowout road losses and a blown lead to Illinois at home, IU pulled out a gutsy overtime win against Minnesota. Then the Hoosiers beat Penn State on the road by six.
IU returned to Assembly Hall with a 15-point loss to mediocre Iowa, but the Hoosiers came within seconds of winning at Illinois and at home against No. 7 Purdue.
Despite a number of setbacks, coach Tom Crean’s Hoosiers continued to show a lot of fight and looked like a team unwilling to be weighed down by the overwhelming odds against them.
However, many wondered, at what point would the close defeats start to take its toll on the young IU team?
The answer seems a bit obvious at this point, as the Hoosiers have railed off a pair of 17-point losses at Northwestern and at home to No. 13 Ohio State and a 28-point road loss to a Wisconsin team that was without its leading scorer and rebounder on Saturday.
Wisconsin scored 30 points alone on 10-of-25 shooting from behind the 3-point line, yet the Badgers dominated the Hoosiers in the paint as well: 32-16.
IU turned the ball over 21 times, a significant number of them unforced, and Wisconsin scored 29 points off those miscues.
The Badgers also grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, which led to 18 second-chance points, while IU joined Cal Poly and Green Bay as the only teams Wisconsin has scored at least 80 points on this season.
Save for sophomore walk-on guard Daniel Moore and some spurts by a few of his teammates, the Hoosiers looked almost uninterested in being out there. They aren’t playing hard and they certainly aren’t playing tough.
We continue to hear about the team playing well in practice and coming in with a good game plan, but in each game the team unravels from the opening tip.
At Wisconsin on Saturday, IU was down 8-0 less than two minutes in and had fallen behind by the equivalent of two touchdowns and a pair of field goals by the 12:35 mark in the first half.
In its last three games, the Hoosiers have trailed a combined 33-6 by the first media timeout, which comes just more than four minutes into each game.
Wisconsin was hitting baskets at will Saturday, but that was due in large part to IU’s defense. It let the Badgers get open, and it couldn’t stop the inside-out game, allowing a number of easy layups and second-chance baskets.
“I felt like when they were in zone or even when they were in man, I felt like nobody really checked me out,” said Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz, who had six offensive rebounds. “I kind of felt like I could just go get it whenever I wanted to.”
It can’t be easy for IU, but you question where the motivation is even going to come from at this point.
A coach’s pep talks can only do so much, and it really has to come from the players — even if you subscribe to the idea that Crean should be taking more responsibility for these losses.
The Hoosiers can either keep on playing as they have been, taking a knockout punch in the early stages of a game and wilting from there, or the team can own up, come together and try turning things around.
Without the fans, the IU program isn’t more than five cloth banners, some pictures on the wall and a couple display cases of past achievements. This team owes it to the Hoosier faithful to come out and play like it deserves to wear cream and crimson.
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