Sophomore guard Al Durham had perfect position.
With just 16 seconds left in IU’s Big Ten Tournament opener against Ohio State on Thursday, IU was down five points defending an OSU inbounds pass from underneath its own basket.
When the Hoosiers’ defense took away every option near him, the Buckeyes' junior forward Andre Wesson heaved a looping pass to freshman guard Dwayne Washington Jr. at midcourt. Squirming his way in front of Washington was Durham, sizing up the dying pass like a wide receiver ready to haul in a touchdown.
The sophomore guard leaped into the air, looking like a Stretch Armstrong toy flailing in mid-air as he stretched his lanky arms as far as they could extend. Yet as the ball neared his hands, it found a way to slip through the cracks of Durham’s fingertips, squarely into the awaiting palms of Washington who finished with a wide-open dunk on the other end.
It was the last of many sick twists of fate the Hoosiers experienced in their 79-75 loss and the season as a whole.
All their momentum from axing down what was once a 20-point lead for the Buckeyes, petered out even after junior guard Devonte Green tossed in two miracle deep heaves on IU’s following two possessions.
The sudden return to prominence that resurfaced after the Hoosiers’ four-game winning streak to close out the regular season was officially dead.
Just mere millimeters away, yet still too short nevertheless.
What a fitting death it was, though. On Thursday, we saw both sides of this two-faced team. There was the ugly, inconsistent Hoosiers that decided to show up for most of Thursday’s contest. It was the same one we hadn’t seen since IU’s 84-63 loss at Minnesota on Feb. 16.
They quickly transformed into the free-flowing, aggressive team that ultimately saved IU’s season from tumbling in a complete free fall from the apex it was once on coming into Big Ten Tournament play.
Yet like this season as a whole, the good Hoosiers showed up to the party far too late.
Something has to give, right? There has to be a reason this team continues to rip out and stomp on its own heart time and time again.
That has been the million-dollar question all season. It’s the one I’ve tried finding an answer to for a while and it always leaves me finding a different conclusion, always wanting to bash my head off my laptop in frustration.
Yet watching IU flounder on offense for the first 32 minutes of Thursday’s game finally had me turning my attention to Coach Archie Miller himself.
I’ve steered clear of placing much blame on Miller for much of this season. Still in his second season at the helm, he only has one class, the freshmen group, that he personally brought into Bloomington.
He seemingly was still in the process of getting everybody to buy in but if the previous four games leading up to the Big Ten Tournament proved anything, it was that some of Miller’s most talented players like Green and junior center De’Ron Davis were finally turning that corner. This was as bought-in as this team was going to get at this point.
Not only did we see the best and worst of this team as a whole Thursday, we saw both the high-level decency and the boorish complacency of Miller’s offensive system as well. It’s not a coincidence that those two coincided.
When IU, which is a downright rotten outside shooting team in general, forces up a barrage of deep jumpers and has marginal movement off the ball, Miller’s offensive approach completely falls apart.
This so-called frenetic scheme relies on the players being able to read defensive sets and matchups. Miller has said that there are no actual set plays being called. That kind of game plan can work with the right core of players but the group the Hoosiers currently have has never really proved to be one that can play that way.
There are no true dead-eye outside shooters than can spot up and knock down a three when defenses collapse on somebody who drives. When IU has somebody that could conceivably fit in that system like Langford, who’s main strength as a scorer is driving and finishing at the basket, they get misused.
Go back and watch Thursday’s game and count how many times Langford is just standing and watching or on the opposite side of where the ball is. You’re going to need more than your fingers and toes to keep track.
This isn’t saying everything falls on Miller. The players have to respond as well.
Yet the downfalls of Miller’s strategy came back to bite his team yet again and at the very worst time.
Minus the final eight minutes when they made their comeback attempt, the Hoosiers reverted back to the less than stellar team that fans have seen at far too many points this season.
The only difference this time is it might’ve been the final blow.
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