After mounting an 11-point comeback in the second half through a 22-8 run, Indiana men’s basketball had all the momentum on its side against No. 22 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. With only a few minutes remaining and a 4-point lead in hand, Indiana, which had won the first matchup against Ohio State on Jan. 6, seemed determined to sweep the season series and snap its four-game losing streak.
But then came empty offensive possessions and breakdowns in defensive coverages — a fatal pairing that Indiana has been far too prone to over its recent five-game slump. In that span, Indiana has scored just 61.4 points per game and given up 72.6 points per game to opponents compared to its averages of 71.4 points scored and 64.2 points allowed this season.
Indiana’s defense forced Ohio State to a field goal drought of over six minutes down the stretch, but the Buckeyes fought their way back to a tie because of these flaws with under six seconds to go in regulation. The momentum, which suddenly jolted right back toward Ohio State’s corner, remained out of Indiana’s grasp through overtime as it suffered an 80-69 loss and moved to 16-10 with four games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament.
“I wish I had the magic pill to get them over the hump right now,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “I can’t fault (our) effort. They played hard tonight. In winning close games, you gotta do everything right.”
The trend of missing pieces carried over from the Hoosiers’ previous matchups, as the team’s guard rotation took another big hit prior to Monday’s matchup.
Around an hour before the tipoff against Ohio State, Indiana Athletics announced sophomore guards Trey Galloway and Khristian Lander would be unavailable with a lower body injury and reaggravation of a sore leg, respectively.
With those key absences, the responsibility of running Indiana’s offense at the point guard positions naturally fell on senior guard Xavier Johnson and freshman guard Tamar Bates but also an unlikely source in senior shooting guard Parker Stewart.
Stewart is best known for his ability to knock down contested 3-pointers and stretch opposing defenses through his shooting range. But on Monday, he also provided Indiana balance on offense by being a creative force below the free-throw line.
He shot 3-4 from beyond the arc and scored 11 points, but his drives to the basket and positioning underneath the arc helped his teammates get involved enough to hang around with the Buckeyes and go into halftime down just 33-28.
Opposite of Stewart, though, was Ohio State freshman guard Malaki Branham. Branham exposed his mismatch with Stewart all night and found creative ways to attack the lanes and score a game-leading 27 points. His pair of free throws and assist to Lidell on the tying dunk in regulation paved the way for the Buckeyes’ own comeback.
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and senior forward Race Thompson were the primary beneficiaries of Stewart’s movement, as the attention he drew provided simple scoring opportunities for the duo.
The duo found ways to create for themselves as well with post-ups in the paint en route to matching stat lines of 13 points and nine rebounds. Jackson-Davis led all Indiana scorers at halftime with 10, while Thompson did most of his damage in the second half and overtime with 9 points and a 3-pointer.
After Thompson made the first basket of overtime, Indiana missed its final seven shots and was outscored 17-6 in the extra five minutes.
“We dug it out and got stops,” Johnson said. “We just didn’t complete the mission. We gotta be a greedy team again (against Maryland). We don’t want to go down in our final stretch.”
Johnson struggled to get into the game with only one made field goal and committed five of the Hoosiers’ 11 total turnovers in the first half alone. He turned his performance around with 12 points from halftime onward, and while the rest of the Hoosiers’ shot 9-17 at the free-throw line, Johnson went a perfect 10-10 in his opportunities.
Although he led Indiana with 16 points, Johnson’s 3-12 shooting night was neither efficient nor productive enough to lead the team to victory in the absence of the injured guards. His shot before the buzzer at the end of regulation was blocked, and he missed back-to-back shots at the rim in overtime with Indiana trailing.
Bates, who celebrated his 19th birthday Monday, poured in 7 points during Indiana’s 22-8 run to keep its short-lived lead alive in the closing stages. Senior forward Miller Kopp, who has struggled with his shooting touch this season, also scored all 7 of his points in succession to kickstart the same run.
The Hoosiers will have another rematch on hand when they face Maryland at 7 p.m. Thursday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“We’ve gotta find a win somewhere so (that) we’re feeling good about ourselves,” Woodson said.