What IU men’s basketball had five days prior — when it put up 80 points against a No. 17 Florida State University defense, after 3-pointers fell in like free throws and a young team celebrated jubilantly in front of a raucous home crowd — shriveled away as it stepped out of friendly confines for the first time.
In the Florida State game, IU's offense proved that its prior performances that had it ranked among the top units in the nation was not just a product of lesser opposition. IU entered Madison, Wisconsin, ranked as the seventh ranked scoring offense in the nation, averaging 85.6 points per game.
At least it was before regressing back to a performance resembling that of the 1-12 streak in Big Ten play last season.
Instead, IU head coach Archie Miller had a group that he said was quiet, without the passion, smiles and energy it had just days prior in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. It didn’t communicate at the Kohl Center. It had nothing to celebrate.
“We’ve got to be better in the area of talking,” Miller said. “I think that we’ve pleaded with this team as much as any that I’ve been around in terms of trying to get guys to talk a little bit more.”
IU scored fewer than 79 points just once in the first eight games. It scored 64 in an 84-64 loss to Wisconsin, a margin that could have been far wider had IU not had flashes of an improved offense in the final minutes.
“You learn about your group and we’ve got to be more of a grinding team on the road,” Miller said. “At home it’s easy when you’re playing in the environment that we play in.”
The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in free throw attempts and free throws made, averaging 241 and 171 respectively. That averages out to IU shooting 21.24-30.13 free throws per game.
“Our team is built to do something really well and that's get fouled,” Miller said after IU’s win over Florida State.
Against Wisconsin, it only got to the line 26 times. It only made 17. And most of that came in IU’s only stretch of good offense, coming when the result was already all but decided.
IU was fifth nationally in total rebounding margin coming in at a +11.8 mark. It was out-rebounded 29-28.
IU’s offense improved in the second half, shooting 55% from the field. But the performance in the first half — shooting 33% from the field, being constantly stymied inside by the sum of Wisconsin bodies and playing without the comfort and rhythm it did five days prior in Assembly Hall — left IU so far behind that none of that mattered. A 10-0 second half run only cut the deficit to 21 points.
IU only had one player, freshman forward Jerome Hunter, with a positive +/- rating (+3). Junior guard Al Durham’s 15 second-half points marked one of the few bright spots in a game where the Hoosiers fell short of nearly all of their season averages offensively.
The early 15-4 deficit IU found itself in isn’t something uncommon. IU was down early to Florida State, and it failed to pull away early against teams it was supposed to beat by margins like the one it lost to Wisconsin by.
"Our team was pleading with each other in the four-minute timeouts,” Miller said. “We were searching for that breakout moment.”
Against Florida State and the non-major conference teams IU faced, that breakout moment happened. IU would go on a run to pull away and win.
Against Wisconsin, that never happened.
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