The scoreboard might not have shown it — and it was the team’s seventh loss in as many games — but IU took some baby steps in the right direction Tuesday.
Tom Crean’s Hoosiers played with more heart and more fight than they showed in recent performances, despite ending on the losing end of things yet again.
In the final minutes, even when the game was out of reach, the Hoosiers were battling for rebounds, on the ground scrapping for loose balls and playing hard on both ends.
Unlike Saturday, the Hoosiers looked like a team that wanted to be out there.
IU grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and scored 21 second-chance points, took several charges and created a number of problems early for the Spartans, but Michigan State was simply the better team.
“They have no weaknesses at any position and they have the depth and all that, and you just can’t let them come down and get comfortable,” Crean said.
IU was not much of a match for Michigan State, despite playing them tough for virtually the entire contest.
The Spartans had nine guys play 10 or more minutes and had four players score in double figures and had 10 different guys score at least a bucket.
Although IU out-rebounded the Big Ten’s top rebounding team by six, the Spartans were the dominant team for much of the game.
The Hoosiers didn’t even collect their first defensive rebound until nearly 12 minutes into the game, partly due to the Spartans shooting, offensive boards and second-chance opportunities.
Michigan State also distributed the ball well, and eight of the team’s 13 assists came from a pair of big men. IU, meanwhile, had five assists to 16 turnovers.
Unlike in recent games, IU didn’t fall apart after getting behind by double figures. But the Spartans, led by guard Kalin Lucas, always had an answer to the Hoosiers’ small runs.
“Every time we thought we were going to cut it and make a little dent and get a little momentum, then Kalin would come back with a big shot,” Crean said.
The Hoosiers weren’t expected to win, but given the team’s performance, they should be returning to practice Wednesday with much more confidence than they had been playing with prior to Tuesday’s game.
“We came out with a lot of energy today. We played hard, they just had some more points off turnovers,” freshman guard Jordan Hulls said. “I thought our group played with a lot more energy than we had the last couple games and we’re just going to build off that.”
Junior guard Jeremiah Rivers made similar comments, talking about continuing to build off the successes of both recent practices and certain spurts.
“Losing is tough, it’s real tough, especially when we know we’re right there and good enough to win,” Rivers said. “I think if we just continue to believe in ourselves and believe in what the coaches preach I think we’ll be okay.”
Although the Hoosiers weren’t satisfied with Tuesday’s outcome, the team did appear to be back on track and the players talked with a renewed since of hope.
Even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo spoke about Crean bringing his program back.
It won’t come all that quickly, but if IU continues playing hard and making strides in the right direction — even if just small steps — good things will come in time.
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