Indiana men’s basketball entered Saturday’s matchup with No. 17 Michigan State desperate to put a halt to its two-game losing streak. The streak is the team’s longest under head coach Mike Woodson and has come during a crucial stretch of the season toward qualification for the NCAA Tournament. Faced with another rowdy road environment, the team stumbled to a 76-61 loss in East Lansing, Michigan.
The Hoosiers not only extended their losing streak to three games, but moved to 2-6 on the road this season. Half of their six remaining regular season games will come away from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Neither team was able to pull away before the 10-minute mark in the first half, as Michigan State held a slim 15-13 advantage. Senior guard Xavier Johnson facilitated Indiana’s offense with poise in that span, knocking down a 3-pointer and finding his teammates with perfect passes on pick-and-rolls en route to three assists.
Several stoppages due to technical fouls and official reviews made it difficult for either team to grasp onto momentum for long. However, Indiana’s lack of composure in those tense moments forced it to play from behind.
“I’m not gonna go there with you,” Woodson said postgame about the officiating. “You watched the same game I did, it’s what it is. (Foul trouble) takes some of the pressure that we like to apply away.”
Four Hoosiers picked up two or more fouls in the first 20 minutes, which the Spartans took advantage of with a 16-18 mark from the free throw line in that span.
The Hoosiers picked up the pace toward the end of the first half with a 14-4 run to get back on level terms at 29 each, but their foul trouble and the scrappy nature of the game put the Spartans ahead 37-30 at the halftime break.
Johnson, who has had the task of guarding opponents’ best guards all season, limited his impact on the outcome due to foul trouble.
“The head of our defensive snake was gone,” junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said about Johnson.
Chants from Michigan State’s student section flustered most of Indiana’s starters late in its offensive possessions, but senior forward Race Thompson’s composure on both ends of the court kept the Hoosiers within reach.
Facing a deficit to start the second half, Thompson was the aggressor and scored 8 of Indiana’s opening 12 points out of the halftime break, pitching in a pair of finishes at the rim and a 3-pointer.
A one-man wrecking ball around the glass, Thompson hauled in a career-high 14 rebounds, good for 41% of Indiana’s total. The 13 total points Thompson paired with it secured his fifth double-double this season.
Jackson-Davis and freshman guard Tamar Bates stepped up around Thompson with 9 and 6 second-half points, respectively, but the offensive production stopped there for the Hoosiers. The Spartans ended with a commanding 44-20 differential in bench points, while the Hoosiers’ second unit shot 2-12 from the floor aside from Bates’ 13-point, 4-8 performance.
Indiana came within 3 points with under 10 minutes remaining through the aforementioned trio’s scoring efforts, but a field goal drought of over four minutes allowed Michigan State to jump to an 11-point lead it never came close to conceding again. Against the Big Ten’s 3-point defense, Indiana shot 24% from beyond the arc and 34% from the floor.
The Hoosiers had chances to chip away at the deficit from the free throw line all afternoon, but gave themselves no relief with a 16-27 mark.
“We’re not shooting the ball very well right now,” Woodson said. “You just make your free throws and you’re in the ball game. We just have to get (Indiana’s shooters) comfortable and feeling good about themselves.”
Sophomore guard Trey Galloway, who made his first career start in Indiana’s loss to Northwestern after five players were suspended due to violation of team rules, started again Saturday in place of senior guard Parker Stewart despite the return of all five players to the lineup. He struggled to replicate Tuesday’s career-high 13-point performance against Northwestern and went 0-6 from the floor with 1 point against Michigan State.
Indiana’s schedule won’t get any less demanding from here, as it will face two more top-25 teams in Big Ten play in its next two games. The first of those two chances to stop its losing streak will come against No. 13 Wisconsin at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Assembly Hall.
“When you lose two in a row you get frustrated, start giving it your all,” Thompson said about Indiana’s mentality in Saturday’s loss. “We love competing. We’re upset but we can’t sit here and dwell on it. We’re not trying to let another one slip away from us, especially at home.”