The younger Hoosier squad managed to weather a game-opening 10-0 run by No. 4 Syracuse Tuesday night at the Carrier Dome, but just as freshman forward Noah Voleh secured IU’s first tie of the game more than two minutes into the second half, the team’s worst dreams came to fruition.
A team without a pure, consistent shooter and a coach who shied away from taking a timeout during a one-sided scoring tear plagued the Hoosiers as IU fell victim to a 25-4 run during the bulk of the second half, falling to the Orange 69-52 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
In the opening minutes of the game, ghosts of the Hoosiers’ loss to Syracuse in March arose as the Orange ran off with the game’s first 10 points to put IU in a deep hole off the bat.
IU Coach Tom Crean’s squad missed its first seven shots from the field. Two free throws from Vonleh and a steal and layup from fellow freshman forward Troy Williams brought IU within six.
Sophomore guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, who went scoreless in his first game against Syracuse last season, hit his first of three 3-pointers to cut that lead in half.
Crean said his players began to execute their game plan. Early at least, the Hoosiers showed they could go punch for punch.
“We did what we came to do,” he said. “We got the ball inside. We had movement. We had reversals.
“We aren’t going to kill them with threes. We don’t have a Trevor Cooney (Syracuse sophomore) right now.”
After falling behind by as many as nine multiple times, a quick 7-0 run got the Hoosiers right back in it.
Despite shooting slightly worse than 33 percent from the floor in the first half, the Hoosiers trailed by a single point before Syracuse’s firecracker Cooney hit one of his five 3-pointers to stretch the lead to 33-29 at halftime.
But during that break, as media members and fans tweeted about how IU had weathered the storm, Crean said he knew his team was already beat.
Surrounded by a locker room dominated by freshmen and sophomores, Crean said the break was very quiet and lacked the confidence, poise and determination of a team that thought it could take down one of the best teams in the country on the road.
“I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms that maybe didn’t have a chance to win, but they didn’t know it, and I’ve been in locker rooms that knew that they could win the game, and they just had to play excellent to do it,” Crean said. “I haven’t been around too many good locker rooms that were quiet.”
“We were really quiet. Maybe guys didn’t think the game was winable,” he said. “I felt like guys didn’t feel like we could win this game.”
And even with a few quick points to tie the game out of the gate, the lack of poise and confidence in their game plan quickly shone through.
The freshmen duo of Williams and Vonleh scored four straight points to pull the Hoosiers even for the only time in the game.
But even during that stretch, Williams and Ferrell put up questionable 3-pointers that Crean said showed a lack of discipline and dedication to what was working in the first half.
After pulling even, 21 seconds later IU fell behind again off a layup from DaJuan Coleman, and the Hoosiers’ hope faded quickly.
The Orange tore off a 12-0 run in 4 minutes 9 seconds, and the Hoosiers would make just seven free throws in the following 6 minutes 31 seconds as Syracuse’s lead eclipsed 20 points.
Nine turnovers between field goals. Forced jump shots. A flagrant 2 foul on sophomore guard Austin Etherington taking Cooney to the deck that would rile up the 26,414 fans in the Carrier Dome to levels rivaling anything heard in Assembly Hall.
As Etherington sprinted into the lock room to avoid the boos, jeers and cat calls from the Syracuse faithful, the Orange held an insurmountable 54-36 lead that would survive until the end.
“It wasn’t like we went to a new offense,” Crean said. “We tried to shoot too many jump shots. Noah Vonleh went 13-for-16 from the foul line.
“You can’t give Syracuse live-ball turnovers. We just lost our way a little bit in the sense of the attack. Being aggressive, forcing the ball inside.
“I’m disgusted with the lack of leadership and unbelievably disappointed in the fight in the second half.”
Vonleh said even as a freshman he recognized something off in the locker room, and he added that he didn’t think the Orange had done anything to beat them in the second half.
Crean said he wasn’t sure if his team would have won coming out confident and ready to take a punch as it had in the first half, but he sure would have liked to see them try.
“I would have really liked to have been able to have this team have a measuring stick of what it takes to play against a top five national championship contender,” Crean said. “The view we have tonight, I don’t like it right now, and I hope it’s not very accurate.”
Follow reporter Nathan Brown on Twitter @nathan_brown10.