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Sunday, Feb. 25
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

COLUMN: Indiana men’s basketball just needs to screw up a little bit less

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In John Lennon’s 1971 song “Imagine,” the legendary Beatles frontman implores the listener to envision a world completely united with no war, geopolitical divides, greed or hunger. Lennon’s aim was to describe a future that seemed impossible at first blush, yet felt just within reach of those who dare to dream with their whole hearts.  

That’s probably why he didn’t include a line about Indiana men’s basketball playing a normal game against Northwestern. World peace is one thing. This would have been a bridge too far.  

The No. 14 Hoosiers fell to the Wildcats in a 64-62 loss that featured a 21-point comeback, a near-triple-double from senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and a half-court heave that came a few inches from beating the buzzer. 

If you only saw the final score of this game and assumed it was close for all 40 minutes, you’d only be off by about 35. Northwestern went into halftime leading 39-20 thanks to a flurry of 3-pointers and relentless defense. Indiana’s players were also there — I think.  

The formula for stopping the Hoosiers is relatively simple, but risky — put as many defenders on Jackson-Davis as you can afford without getting completely toasted from range. If Jackson-Davis’ teammates can knock down their open shots, you’re in trouble. 

In the first half, Indiana shot 28% from the floor and didn’t make a single 3-pointer. Northwestern was not in trouble.  

Part of me wanted to see if Indiana could somehow play worse in the second half. Instead, the Hoosiers reverted to the mean so hard that your high school statistics teacher would need a glass of cold water after watching it. 

The Hoosiers kicked off the second frame with a 12-6 run spearheaded by Jackson-Davis’ passing. While ball distribution wasn’t exactly a strong point for Indiana — the Hoosiers committed 13 turnovers — Jackson-Davis helped graduate forward Race Thompson score 13 points, his best performance since returning from injury. Meanwhile, freshman guard Jalen-Hood Schifino added 13 points and several much-needed jolts of energy to an occasionally stagnant offense. 

Still, it was the Hoosiers’ all-everything forward who shouldered the load. Jackson-Davis is famously pretty good at basketball. He also plays so, so much of it. The Hoosiers needed him for each of the 39 minutes he spent on the court, during which he logged 23 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. 

Midway through the second half, Jackson-Davis’ jersey had turned an entirely different hue of red. If it were a shade of expensive lipstick, it would be called something exotic and overdramatic like “exhaustion” or “agony” or “losing the will to live.” 

When Hood-Schifino lobbed a 20-foot alley-oop to Jackson-Davis with a minute left and the Hoosiers trailing 60-58, I wondered if Jackson-Davis would even have the strength to jump for it. It didn’t matter — the pass bricked off the top of the backboard into a Northwestern defender’s hands. The Wildcats sealed the game with a last-second jumper a few possessions later. 

Another herculean effort by Jackson-Davis, another absurdly sloppy start to render it moot. It’s something we haven’t seen as often since the Hoosiers have found their rhythm, but Big Ten road games tend to bring out the worst in the visitors.  

Games like these are why no matter how amazing Indiana looks in a tough road win against Illinois or a wire-to-wire victory over No. 1 Purdue, I can’t confidently call it great. It’s hard to put a ton of faith in the Hoosiers knowing they’ll always have 20 minutes of truly awful basketball in them. 

Then again, they also have halves in which they outscore their opponent 42-25 and look unstoppable. Somewhere in between those two extremes is a team that can make a deep NCAA Tournament run — but only if head coach Mike Woodson can prevent first halves like Tuesday night’s from happening. 

Ultimately, a road loss to a solid Northwestern team isn’t anything to be ashamed of. While a close loss stings, Indiana fans should be impressed with what the Hoosiers accomplished in the second half. They rallied together, played lights-out defense and showed us how dominant they can really be.  

That said — do you think next time they could try only falling behind by, like, 18 points instead? 

Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.
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