A question that has undoubtedly been ringing through countless minds since the final buzzer sounded at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois, on Wednesday night.
But no matter how badly the Hoosiers might want to go back in time to resolve that unanswered inquiry, the 64-62 loss to Northwestern is a tough pill that No. 14 Indiana men’s basketball will just have to swallow.
In a rollercoaster comeback attempt that saw the Hoosiers outscore the Wildcats by 17 points in the second half and still walk away with a loss, there were many moments that could have caught the blame. Still, it’s impossible to say that just one play, player or even officiating decision determined the outcome of the game.
Criticize a dozen different things – Indiana’s sluggish start, turnovers, certain calls from the referees or crucial missed free throws. But down the stretch, there were three specific plays that inarguably shifted the game away from the Hoosiers’ favor.
9:19 1H: Indiana bench double technical foul
When Northwestern senior guard Boo Buie drove to the basket, hesitated and appeared to travel, Indiana head coach Mike Woodson did not like what he saw.
After pleading his case to referee Larry Scirotto for a few seconds, a technical foul was assessed to the Indiana bench. Moments later, Woodson brushed Scirotto’s arm as he continued to argue the call and was given a second technical.
As a result, Buie went to the line for four free throws, sank them all and retained possession of the ball. A 5-point deficit for Indiana quickly became 9, and the call was a large shift in the first-half tide.
The Hoosiers, who had already been on a scoring drought prior to the fouls, didn’t score again until the 7:23 mark. In fact, they only scored 5 points between the under-12 and the under-4 media timeout.
In an ultimate 2-point difference, as well as in the midst of a 17-0 Northwestern run, the 4 extra points were crucial to the game’s result.
1:11 2H: Jalen Hood-Schifino turnover
Once Indiana had nearly completed a full comeback late in the second half, bouncing back from a once-21-point deficit to one of merely 2 points, every possession was invaluable. The Hoosiers were just one score away from tying the game and building off their momentum with a legitimate chance to win a game that was, at one point, not even in question.
The play was drawn up perfectly: senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis pivoted past his defender to turn backdoor into a wide-open lane. The lob pass left freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino's hands for an elevating Jackson-Davis, eager to tie the game at 60 apiece with a powerful slam.
Instead, Hood-Schifino's pass skyrocketed off the top of the backboard – nowhere near Jackson-Davis' outstretched arms – and found itself in Northwestern’s possession a couple seconds later.
It was a play that Indiana has run to perfection so many times, utilizing the All-American's shifty footwork, strong seals and inhuman leaps to the basket. But a faulty pass cost the Hoosiers a highlight play and, much more importantly, 2 priceless points.
0:02 2H: Boo Buie made 2-pointer
Buie’s and the game’s final points of the night were the most obvious difference maker in shutting down Indiana’s comeback attempt. After all, the Hoosiers’ only hope of victory afterward was a desperation heave from Hood-Schifino that barely missed the bottom of the net.
Buie pieced together a deadly performance, totaling 21 points and six rebounds. His scores seemed to come at just the right time to kill Indiana’s momentum, and the silencer at the conclusion of the game was poetically representative of his confidence and swagger all night.
Similar to Woodson’s technical fouls, Buie’s shot left some controversies on the table. Many argued that he pushed off Indiana junior guard Trey Galloway to create adequate space that allowed him to get the shot up without being blocked. The play didn’t reach any further review, though, and Buie and the Wildcats quickly got to celebrating their second ranked win of the week.