It does not matter how many points Indiana men’s basketball lost by Monday night, but what does matter is how it lost. The Hoosiers failed to execute in regulation and overtime to close out No. 22 Ohio State for what could’ve been its second win against the Buckeyes this season.
Indiana's adversity this season is weighing down on its chances of participating in the NCAA’s March Madness postseason tournament. The unfortunate injuries of senior guard Rob Phinisee and sophomore guards Trey Galloway and Khristian Lander going into the postseason play a significant role in the team’s lack of confidence, which it had plenty of early on in the season.
After losing four straight games before Monday, Indiana was determined to salvage its drought. The Hoosiers started how they always begin: with fast-paced ball movement, inside domination and high energy on defense.
Senior guard Xavier Johnson led Indiana with 16 points, three rebounds, and four assists in Monday night’s loss before fouling out in overtime. However, Johnson seemingly struggled with running the point guard position, making five costly turnovers in the first half in a game where both teams were shaky with the ball.
With Indiana’s lack of backcourt power, Johnson shot 3-12 from the field, and senior guard Miller Kopp’s shooting slump continued. Kopp shot 2-8 from the field while going 1-5 from 3-point land in his 31 minutes of play.
The production from senior guard Parker Stewart kept Indiana above water, scoring 8 of his 11 points in the first half by hitting back-to-back, game-changing 3-pointers to claim Indiana’s first lead of the game with seven minutes left in the first half.
After Stewart’s first substitution out of the game, Indiana’s offense had no answer for Ohio State’s defense. However, the big-man duo of junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and senior forward Race Thompson did what they do best, putting Indiana on their backs to push themselves out of their scoring drought.
Both Jackson-Davis and Thompson put their hard hats on once again, each scoring 13 points and pulling down nine rebounds to dominate the paint. After absorbing the defense's attention, the duo also spread the floor enough to help their teammates receive open shots.
In overtime, Ohio State took complete control after Indiana’s persistent 14-2 scoring run before the end of the second half. Ohio State graduate guard Jamari Wheeler hit a game-changing 3-pointer with just under three minutes left, while the production from freshman guard Malaki Branham came through when it counted the most.
Branham, the freshman star, poured in 27 points on an efficient 9-13 night from the field. Branham nailed a perfect 8-8 free throws, considering how much Indiana lacked at the free-throw line Monday against Ohio State.
In Indiana’s last meeting against Ohio State, the team did an excellent job containing junior forward E.J. Liddell to 13 points, enough for him not to take over. Once again, Indiana did its best to stop Liddell on Monday, but he could not remain tamed as he finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and two assists in the overtime victory of vengeance.
Indiana continues to prove my point every single game this season: the team does not know how to close out games. That was why Indiana lost Monday night: the perimeter defense, missed free throws and costly turnovers. Simple as that.
The five-player suspension against Northwestern back on Feb. 8 caused Indiana’s drought. Now it is paying the price, potentially kissing its chance of competing in the NCAA Tournament goodbye.