Flashbacks to that unforgettable night in Bloomington came flooding through the minds of all those squeezed inside Mackey Arena on Saturday. Depending on the individual in question, whether they were a fan of Indiana men’s basketball or Purdue, the mere thought evoked vastly different feelings.
Those in cream and crimson — outnumbered in West Lafayette, Indiana — hoped for something remotely similar to senior guard Rob Phinisee’s game-winning shot on Jan. 20. The restless home crowd couldn’t piece together how the game even came down to this point, but it was collectively aware of, and feared, the possibility of being swept to the in-state rival its team has dominated for the past decade.
With Indiana once again facing a deficit and the chance to tie or take the lead with 17 seconds left in its regular season-finale against No. 4 Purdue — this time with its postseason hopes hanging on the result — hearts stood still. Fans from each side were cautious of getting ahead of themselves with the game still undecided.
The Hoosiers fought and willed themselves to earn this opportunity against one of the most challenging Big Ten opponents in one of college basketball’s rowdiest arenas. But as has been the theme this season aside from that special night on which the team snapped its nine-game losing streak to Purdue, Indiana squandered its chances and lost its way in the deciding moments.
Indiana’s 69-67 defeat to Purdue was a result of a sequence of miscues in the closing stages — one that was ultimately the costliest of a long line of disappointing finishes by the Hoosiers this season.
A missed wide-open 3-pointer by senior guard Parker Stewart on the inbound play with 17 seconds left, a turnover on the ensuing inbound pass by senior guard Miller Kopp and a questionable 3-point heave by senior guard Xavier Johnson at half court with over two seconds still on the clock doomed Indiana to another close loss in an important game.
“I don’t think anything was risky,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said about Kopp’s inbound pass. “(Trayce Jackson-Davis) was open. Miller made a bad pass — he’s done some good things on that play (in practice) — but it’s a big play.”
With the loss, the Hoosiers’ losing streak at Mackey Arena was extended to seven games spanning back to 2014. More detrimental to their NCAA Tournament resume than their now 3-8 record on the road is a 9-11 record in Big Ten play. This leaves the Hoosiers ninth in the standings and in a far less convincing place than other conference foes fighting their way out of the bubble.
Though Indiana refused to give up Saturday just days after suffering a similarly deflating 66-63 loss to Rutgers on Wednesday, it couldn’t capitalize on the brief periods Purdue made mistakes and showed lapses of concentration.
The Hoosiers’ defense kept the game close enough for their offense to lead several comeback efforts, holding Purdue to a season-low 39.7% shooting mark, but their lack of urgency rebounding the ball allowed Purdue sophomore Zach Edey and their opponent’s dangerous shooters to kill any momentum they built.
Purdue outrebounded Indiana 14-8 on the offensive glass and turned their second-chance opportunities into 15 points Indiana could’ve avoided giving up.
Aside from Kopp’s season-high four 3-pointers — part of a performance which came as a surprise since the Northwestern transfer has struggled in his first year with the Hoosiers — a lack of reliable long-distance shooting played a key role in Indiana’s struggles in the closing stages.
Stewart missed the chance with his defender trailing to turn a 2-point deficit into a 1-point lead with 17 seconds left, and besides Kopp’s contributions, senior forward Race Thompson accounted for Indiana’s only 3-pointer on 16 attempts.
“We got a bunch of good looks at it,” Woodson said. “Parker’s three couldn’t have been more wide open, and he just didn’t make it, but the other night (against Rutgers) he made it.”
Johnson, whose 18-point performance in the team’s win earlier in the season against Purdue was overshadowed by Phinisee’s 20-point night and game-winner, stepped up again in Saturday’s rematch with dynamic point guard play. He led the team with 18 points and dished out a season-high 11 assists to put the Hoosiers in a position to win the game as the second half winded down.
When it came down to closing the game out, though, the team’s poor decision-making and execution creeped into Johnson’s play as well.
Johnson ran the ball up the court with five seconds to go after Purdue senior forward Trevion Williams missed two free throws with a 3-point lead, but he forced an unfavorable shot at half court instead of taking another few steps or passing to a player closer to the basket.
“I tried to draw the foul,” Johnson said about the final possession. “He just started holding me, I thought he grabbed the back of my jersey.”
The Big Ten Tournament from March 9 to 13 is now Indiana’s only hope of breaking a five-season drought from March Madness. The team will have to improve on its inconsistencies and completely break away from its late-game trends if it hopes to make a deep run and save its season from being cut short.
“We know what’s at stake,” Kopp said. “We’ve shown and believe we can beat any team in the country or the Big Ten, whether we finish the games or not.”