Playing in a road environment against one of the Big Ten’s five best teams, IU Coach Archie Miller knew his team could ill afford to make mistakes.
This was the situation IU had created for itself, needing a road win in its penultimate game of the regular season to continue momentum toward a postseason berth. But the mistakes came early and often in Nebraska on Tuesday night, and ultimately ended up costing the Hoosiers.
Thanks to 19 turnovers and an offense that went stagnant in the game’s final minutes, IU lost 66-57 against the Cornhuskers to snap the Hoosiers’ four-game winning streak.
“We didn’t take care of the ball from the opening tip,” Miller said on his postgame radio show. “Coming out of halftime, we couldn’t get in under control.”
The turnovers were a consistent issue for IU throughout the game, as the Hoosiers followed up nine first-half giveaways with 10 more after the break. Senior Robert Johnson, who tied for a game-high 16 points, was the only IU guard who didn’t struggle mightily against the Cornhuskers.
Sophomore Devonte Green and senior Josh Newkirk combined for nine turnovers and just eight points while Johnson also turned the ball over three times. The team’s 19 turnovers tied a season-high.
Despite numbers that might point to the contrary, IU was leading or within striking distance for most of the game. The Hoosiers led 41-37 with less than 14 minutes to go in the game, but a 10-0 run for the Cornhuskers over the next four minutes gave them the lead for good.
“We played hard for long stretches at a time,” Miller said. “We just had some inexplicable plays from a lot of guys, but more importantly our backcourt.”
While the backcourt struggled with decision-making, IU’s forwards simply wore down. Junior forward Juwan Morgan appeared sluggish all game long but still managed to finish with 13 points and nine rebounds in 36 minutes of action.
Freshman forward Justin Smith was able to take control of the Hoosier offense at times, particularly early in the second half. Smith scored 10 of his 16 points in the first six minutes of the second half, but didn’t score in the game’s final 14 minutes. Without Smith’s offense, IU struggled to score late.
“It was anybody’s game at about the eight minute mark, started to get away from us a little bit, and then just really disappointed in our team the way we finished the last three minutes,” Miller said.
IU trailed by only three points with fewer than five minutes remaining in the game before the turnover bug bit the Hoosiers again and Nebraska went on an 8-0 run to go up by double digits. By the time Johnson cut the deficit to nine with 1:35 left in the game, it was too late for a comeback.
The loss dropped IU’s overall record to 16-13, while the Hoosiers moved to 9-8 in Big Ten play. Miller’s team will either be the sixth or the seventh seed in the conference tournament next week, but a tough home game waits against No. 16 Ohio State in IU’s regular season finale on Friday. The Buckeyes beat the Hoosiers comfortably in late-January but have struggled recently, with two losses in their last three games.
“We’re gonna need a packed house,” Miller said of Friday’s game. “We’re gonna need a group that’s really dialed in to play a team that’s trying to win the league championship on our home floor.”
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