When a skydiver plummets toward the Earth, they eventually reach terminal velocity, the state at which they physically cannot travel any faster.
Most of us will never experience this phenomenon firsthand, but luckily we can just watch IU men’s basketball’s offense to see an object rapidly hit its maximum speed and not generate another ounce of momentum.
Despite jumping out to a demonstrative 19-6 lead after 10 minutes of play, IU fell 78-71 to Michigan State on Saturday.
I don’t throw out my winter coat once summer arrives, nor do I discard my umbrella as soon as it stops raining. So why do I assume the Hoosiers are going to dominate a contest because they have a handful of great opening possessions?
Between the rim-rattling dunks that sophomore forward Jackson-Davis slammed down and the emphatic blocks he and junior forward Race Thompson swatted, there was plenty of eye candy for fans. But candy, however tasty, is still empty calories.
Michigan State shot better from the floor than IU and made the necessary adjustments to hold Jackson-Davis to 2 points for the first half’s last eight minutes. Nonetheless, head coach Archie Miller’s crew went into the locker room leading 30-26.
Thompson has been so good so often this year that it’s extremely reductive and near-sighted to say he’s quietly one of IU’s best players. In fact, I would argue he is one of IU’s best players at a perfectly normal volume.
The relentless forward snagged a mind-bending seven steals and generally made scoring as pleasant as a stomach ulcer for Michigan State.
The Hoosiers had ferociously hounded the ball on defense and forced 10 takeaways, setting them up for a transition basket or, equally likely, a turnover of their own. Over and over, IU has revealed passing to be its foremost limiting factor. Well, passing and the murderer’s row of ranked opponents it has to face every week.
It quickly became clear in the second half that Michigan State was the more cohesive unit. Despite the Hoosiers’ impressive 41 points, 20 of which came courtesy of Jackson-Davis, the Spartans were suddenly unstoppable finding the bottom of the hoop.
Meanwhile, IU couldn’t have bought a clutch 3-pointer even if Mark Cuban had given it the funding for one. The Hoosiers fed Jackson-Davis’ ridiculous, career-high 34-point stat line but may have starved themselves as a result.
Viewers might say the Hoosiers collapsed and lost a game of which they had control, but I’m not sure that’s true. The Spartans outmatched them in most noteworthy statistical categories and appeared far more organized doing it.
Aside from the occasional Iowa upset, IU has been fairly predictable this year. The Hoosiers typically beat inferior teams and lose to better ones, but they do so while frenetically vacillating between looking like a Final Four competitor and an intramural squad who only showed up with four guys and had to borrow a reluctant player from their opponent.
Of the Hoosiers’ 10 losses this season, today’s was one of the more enjoyable as a spectator. Jackson-Davis and Thompson both had career outings in their own respects, and I’m pretty sure we’ve witnessed a few lunar eclipses since the last time the Hoosiers had a double-digit first-half lead.
There have been no shortage of reasons to feel good for IU’s players this year, not the least of which has been their ability to stay safe and healthy in a season that maybe shouldn’t be happening.
If you can content yourself with seeing remarkable athletes doing remarkable things, this year hasn’t been too rough for Hoosier faithfuls.
However, if your mentality is banner or bust, rest assured knowing you’ll always have the pure bliss you experienced those first 10 minutes of an unranked basketball game in late February.