When IU lost to No. 11 Michigan State last March, it was the team’s eighth-straight loss and the 19th in 20 games.
Yet after the way the Hoosiers performed against the eventual NCAA Tournament runner-up Spartans last year, there wasn’t much with which to be disappointed.
“It was a great game,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “Our guys were in it the entire way to the very end.”
While the upset didn’t happen and then-senior Kyle Taber lost his final home game at IU, it was a valiant effort.
Crean said his team could have “packed it in” after falling behind by 13 midway through the second half, but they never did.
“That is a sign of maturity and our goal as we go through this is to keep playing better basketball, keep building a better mind-set and keep building that belief that we can win now and we can win in the future,” Crean said.
IU quickly surpassed last year’s six wins and a single Big Ten victory this season, but since starting 9-9 overall and 3-3 in conference play, the Hoosiers have lost six straight.
In the team’s most recent losses, it hasn’t displayed that same fight the 2008-’09 Hoosiers did against the Spartans. IU simply hasn’t been competitive after falling behind by double digits.
That has to change quickly for the Hoosiers to compete in the final six games of the regular season, starting tonight.
Although Michigan State has lost three of its last four, including two of its last three on the road, the Spartans will be a tough matchup for the Hoosiers.
MSU guard Kalin Lucas, though still not fully recovered from an ankle sprain, scored 24 points, dished out 6 assists and nabbed 3 steals Saturday at Penn State.
The Spartans have three other double-figure scorers in guard Durrell Summers (10.4) and forwards Raymar Morgan (10.4) and Draymond Green (10.0).
Michigan State is third in the Big Ten in scoring but the conference leader in rebounds (39.5 per game) and rebound margin (+9.5). IU, meanwhile, is third in the Big Ten on the boards (35.8), yet is in the league cellar by allowing its opponents to grab an average of 36.7 per game.
“Rebounding is going to be key for us, as long as we are tough in there,” freshman guard Jordan Hulls said.
Green is Michigan State’s biggest force on the glass, averaging 8.2 boards, while starting forwards Delvon Roe (5.7) and Morgan (5.6) could greatly challenge IU as well.
It should be an up-tempo and sometimes sloppy game, as IU and Michigan State lead the Big Ten in turnovers.
Despite its recent woes during the course of Lucas’ injury, Michigan State will not be an easy opponent for IU to bring down.
Yet if recent performances have anything to do with today’s outcome, it is likely IU will determine its own fate.
The Hoosiers might seem due for a win soon, but it won’t be handed to them in the Big Ten. They will have to earn it, and that starts inside.
“We’ve had some tough games the last couple weeks, but as long as we keep working hard in practice, it’s going to come,” Hulls said. “We’re staying together and as long as we keep doing that, it’s going to work out.”
Cohen's prediction: MSU 72-IU 64
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