Indiana men’s basketball led 63-59 against No. 22 Ohio State with 2:47 left to play Monday night in Columbus, Ohio. The team, which came into the game in the midst of a four-game losing streak, had clawed its way back from a 50-39 deficit and looked to be in control.
For the second-straight game, the Hoosiers collapsed down the stretch. The Buckeyes only scored 4 points in the final 2:47, but that reality was offset by the fact the Hoosiers went 0-3 from the field in that time. The game went to overtime, and the Buckeyes dominated in the extra period, outscoring the Hoosiers 17-6 and ending the game on a 10-0 run.
Ohio State freshman guard Malaki Branham served as Indiana’s kryptonite Monday, putting up a game-high 27 points and scoring 17 combined in the second half and overtime. Branham made two free throws to cut Indiana’s lead to 2 points with 56 seconds left to play in regulation. With six seconds left, he found junior forward E.J. Liddell wide open in the paint for a dunk to even the score.
“(Branham) made some tough shots, and we also made some mistakes guarding him, letting him get to his right hand,” senior guard Parker Stewart said. “I take the blame for that because I guarded him most of the night.”
While Indiana played solid defense for most of the last possession of regulation, junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who struggled offensively after scoring 10 points in the first half, lost Liddell on the baseline as he went unimpeded to the basket once Branham dished him the ball.
“If they’re going to make a shot to tie the ball game, it really can’t be a layup, and that’s what happened,” head coach Mike Woodson said after the game.
Liddell, Ohio State’s leading scorer this season, leaned on Branham to carry the load, but after a poor 3-12 shooting effort when he faced Indiana earlier this season in Bloomington, Liddell put up 16 points himself Monday night. He scored 11 points in the second half and overtime combined after a slow 2-7 start from the field in the first half.
Indiana sophomore guards Trey Galloway and Khrisitan Lander missed the game with injuries, which seemed to add pressure to starting point guard senior Xavier Johnson. While Johnson scored 8 points on 2-5 shooting and 4-4 shooting at the free-throw line in the second half, he was careless in the first half and turned the ball over five times in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“I can’t fault Xavier,” Woodson said. “He was fighting pretty much the whole game.”
Johnson finished with a team-high 16 points while going a perfect 10-10 from the free-throw line.
Woodson has harped on getting Indiana “over the hump” after almost every loss this season, and his assessment was correct when he said Indiana has been in every game this season and had an opportunity to win all of them before its game with Ohio State. Monday’s game was no different.
“I wish I had the magic pill to get them over the hump right now,” Woodson said. “We’re right there. I can’t fault effort. They played hard tonight and got back in it, got back in it and put ourselves in a great position, but again, in winning close games you have to do everything right.”
The issue for the Hoosiers is that coming close to winning doesn’t help the team’s record, which now sits at 16-10. The other side of the hump Woodson alludes to is still uncharted territory for this team. Three weeks ago, the Hoosiers looked like a lock into the NCAA Tournament. Five-straight losses later, they might be on the outside looking in.
“This team is not quitting,” Woodson said. “If you think that, then you’re watching the wrong game tonight. These guys came, and they competed.”
While its postseason hopes look bleak, Indiana still has four games left on the schedule to right the ship heading into Big Ten Tournament play. The team’s next game is at 7 p.m. Thursday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall against Maryland, the last team it beat before its five-game skid began.
“We don’t want to go down the final stretch and keep losing games,” Johnson said. “The last four we gotta win.”