CHICAGO — IU Coach Archie Miller took a knee on the sideline, watched freshman guard Romeo Langford miss a 3-pointer and didn’t bother to follow the play as the Hoosiers transitioned from offense to defense.
A labored effort was required from IU’s second-year head coach to rise from his kneeling stance. While his body moved, his head did not, such was the level of interest he had in whatever was taking place for IU on the defensive end.
The sequence came with IU down 13 points to Ohio State and more than nine minutes still to play in the second half of a 79-75 Ohio State win in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon.
Miller spent the remainder of the game trying to will his team to an improbable victory, as IU found itself down 20 with 7:30 to go, before clawing back to within three points and two points inside the final minute. But as the Hoosiers maniacally tried to salvage their postseason hopes in that brief span of time, the game took on the form of the entire 2018-19 season.
In a matchup considered a de facto play-in game to reach the NCAA Tournament, IU started the game with disinterest while Ohio State began with energy.
Ten first-half turnovers and countless more wasted offensive possessions marred the first half that saw the Hoosiers lead for just 41 seconds. After the game, few had an explanation for the slow start that so strongly juxtaposed IU’s winning performances in the past four games.
“Our energy level wasn’t there,” Langford said. “I don’t have an answer for that.”
“I wish I could tell you so I could have fixed it,” senior guard Zach McRoberts said.
“Just weren't good enough at this game at this level for what was at stake,” Miller said. “Needed to play smarter and sharper.”
Freshman guard Rob Phinisee offered some concrete explanations, such as Ohio State double-teaming senior forward Juwan Morgan in the post, playing more compact in the paint to force IU to take jump shots, and Ohio State going both under and over ball screens on defense.
But even this came with a caveat.
“I don’t think we adjusted well to them,” Phinisee.
Keeping IU afloat in Thursday’s game was junior guard Devonte Green with a career-high 26 points, including a 5-5 showing on 3-pointers during a late second-half display which galvanized the pro-IU crowd inside the United Center.
But the comeback attempt was left too late and meant that instead of reflecting on a Big Ten Tournament moment for the ages, IU was left lamenting not only a terrible start to Thursday’s game, but also the volatile season which placed so much importance on the game in the first place.
“I feel like that slump we went on in the middle of the season kind of took a toll on our bodies and our minds,” junior forward De’Ron Davis said.
Davis made a roller coaster motion with his hands when describing the trajectory of this season, and went on to say the Hoosiers are ready for whatever is next, be it an NCAA Tournament appearance or not.
He also acknowledged that had the doldrums of January and February not happened, and had IU not gone through a stretch of losing 12 of 13 games, IU would have been “an easy NCAA team.”
Presented with the same proposition postgame, his head coach was less certain.
“So are we capable? Yes,” Miller said of reaching the NCAA Tournament. “Did we do enough? I’m not sure.”
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