The Hoosiers couldn't hold on to a lead to close out against Northwestern Thursday night. IU led 57-45 in the fourth quarter. Seven minutes and 22 seconds later it was tied and headed to overtime with unranked Northwestern. The Hoosiers then led 69-65 in overtime. Two minutes and five seconds later, they walked off the court on the wrong end of a 71-69 final.
The bottom line is the Hoosiers had the Wildcats right where they wanted them. But they couldn’t finish.
Right from the start it seemed like Northwestern’s night. The players gathered at half-court and stomped on the IU logo before the national anthem. Then the pregame hype video froze halfway through, leading to an awkward moment of silence.
The Wildcats got off to a great start with six straight points before going up 11-2 and forcing a timeout by IU not even halfway through the quarter.
After suffering a double overtime loss to Iowa on Sunday, IU looked like it wouldn’t recover. But then something changed.
IU had an 11-0 run through the second quarter to pull ahead for the first time all night. It wouldn’t trail for the remainder of regulation.
Going into the fourth quarter, IU was up by 10. It had just shot over 64% from the field the quarter before. All signs pointed to a big bounceback win at home. Then the Hoosiers did the one thing you absolutely cannot do when you’re leading late: let up.
IU went more than four minutes without a point in the fourth. In that time, Northwestern clawed all the way back and cut the deficit to two points. Sophomore guard Grace Berger scored three straight points to get the lead back to five, but IU let up again and allowed Northwestern to tie the game, scoring all five points with less than a minute left.
With 2:05 left in overtime, freshman forward Mackenzie Holmes got a huge offensive rebound and got fouled on the putback. The crowd rose to their feet and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall was filled with cheers. After the free throw, IU led by four. It wouldn’t score another point.
For the second time, IU let up. Northwestern came right back again. Up one with a chance to run the clock, junior forward Jaelynn Penn threw a bad pass that got stolen. Penn fouled on the other end to stop the fast break, putting Northwestern at the line. Both free throws fell putting IU down by one.
After a missed shot by Berger, IU put Northwestern on the line. Northwestern went 1-2, giving IU a chance. On the ensuing possession, Berger made an ill-advised pass inside that was picked off, and Northwestern ran out the clock, escaping with the win.
Northwestern didn’t just win. IU gave them this game. The Hoosiers might as well have gift wrapped this game and put a bow on it. IU looked like the better team all night but failed to finish in crunch time. In a conference like the Big Ten, that can’t happen.
This game won’t decide IU’s season. There’s plenty of time to bounce back and make a statement. But if the Hoosiers keep proving their inability to close out games, they will be unable to contend for a Big Ten title.
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