Indiana men’s basketball hasn’t won a game in three weeks. After getting out to a 16-5 record this season, Indiana dropped its first four games in February and moved to the bubble of NCAA Tournament contention.
The Hoosiers have another opportunity to squash their now four-game losing streak against No. 18 Ohio State at 7 p.m. Monday in Columbus, Ohio. Indiana took care of Ohio State earlier in the season, winning 67-51 behind a 27-point effort from junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis on Jan. 6 in Bloomington.
Jackson-Davis has scored 20 or more points in just one of the 10 games following Indiana’s last game against Ohio State, but he exploded for 30 points in the team’s last game against No. 15 Wisconsin.
Indiana led for nearly 30 minutes against Wisconsin and was ahead 69-66 with less than two minutes to play, but Wisconsin closed the game out with an 8-0 run.
“You cannot name many games that we have not competed,” head coach Mike Woodson said at a press conference Saturday. “When you have a bunch of guys that have never won, the mental thing starts to play a role. It is my job to ease that.”
Woodson has harped on playing a full 40 minutes of basketball all season, which the Hoosiers have struggled to do consistently. In Indiana’s nine losses this season, it led in four of those games at halftime and gave up 4+ point leads in eight of them.
Woodson said Indiana’s ability to close out games has been disturbing, but said he takes responsibility for it because it’s his job to get his players over the hump. Despite the Hoosiers’ four consecutive losses, he said the team is still in the right frame of mind and doing OK mentally.
“There is not a day that goes by in practice that I am not positive, but I still have to coach,” Woodson said. “I have to push guys to play at a high level.”
Indiana and Ohio State were originally set to face off Saturday, but Ohio State instead faced Iowa on Saturday to make up for their matchup which was postponed earlier in the season. Ohio State lost 75-62 at home to Iowa and will face Indiana on just two days of rest.
While the Buckeyes have a quick turnaround, the postponement extended the Hoosiers’ break from four days to six, which provided invaluable time to get ready mentally. Senior forward Miller Kopp said he took the first couple of days before Monday’s matchup to clear his mind and stay out of the gym, but he still worked on his cardio to keep his body working.
“I don’t necessarily like taking days off,” Kopp said. “All my days off I make sure to do something that still kind of keeps me in good shape.”
Senior forward Race Thompson shared the same sentiment as Kopp and said he took the long break to get his mind right as Indiana heads into the last stretch of the regular season. Thompson said despite the team’s recent stretch of losses, everyone on the team came to Saturday’s practice ready to go.
Thompson said the Hoosiers were down on themselves following their loss to Wisconsin, but they’re prepared for the last five games of the regular season starting Monday.
“We talked about it as a team, we can’t get too down on ourselves,” Thompson said. “We’ve got five more games, we gotta come out and win these next five.”
In addition to the mental boost, the break has given Indiana a chance to rest physically. However, Indiana could be without both of its backup point guards against Ohio State. Woodson said senior guard Rob Phinisee, who is dealing with plantar fasciitis, wouldn’t be back anytime soon. Woodson also said sophomore guard Khristian Lander didn’t practice Saturday due to an undisclosed injury.
If Lander also can’t play against Ohio State, senior guard Xavier Johnson will need to carry a big load, and one of Indiana’s shooting guards will likely have to run the offense for some stretches of the game Monday.
“We are shorthanded, but there are plenty of other guys that are wearing a uniform that have to step up until those guys get back,” Woodson said.
Follow reporters Kamil Gut (@GutKamil) and Tristan Jackson (@Trist_Jackson), and columnist Da’Qwan Dockery (@ddockery35) for updates throughout the game and the rest of the Indiana men’s basketball season.
Location: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Radio: IU Radio Network