CHICAGO — It’s hard to win in the Big Ten when you only make two 3-pointers. It’s hard to win when your opponent makes 23 of 26 free throws.
In the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center against No. 10-seeded Penn State on Saturday, No. 3-seeded Indiana men’s basketball tried to win the hard way.
Indiana’s formula still almost paid off. A furious late comeback helped Indiana storm back from down 15, but Penn State iced the game with free throws to knock off the Hoosiers, 77-73.
“There’s no magical pill that you can give these guys when they’re struggling,” head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “I wouldn’t call our team really struggling, I thought we competed. But we just didn’t compete for 40 minutes.”
For most of the second half, after Penn State’s 14-4 run to break a deadlocked game, it seemed Indiana had no shot at keeping it close. After going 21 minutes without a 3-pointer, Penn State heated back up from deep, hitting three of its last six to finish the night 8-for-23.
Indiana, meanwhile, was 2-for-14 from deep, with both makes belonging to sophomore guard Tamar Bates. Several times throughout the night, Indiana gave up on open shots from beyond the arc, instead choosing to drive the ball or pass to another player.
With 1:58 remaining in the first half, senior forward Miller Kopp passed on one of those open chances, instead dishing the ball to junior guard Trey Galloway, who caught the ball as the shot clock was ringing. Indiana turned the ball over, leading to Kopp throwing his head in his hands out of frustration with himself.
"You can’t be afraid to shoot the ball, and we got a great team,” senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who scored 24 points with 10 rebounds, said. “We got great shooters, and that’s what really spaces the floor for us. When we’re not doing that, they can just pack it in.”
Within 55 seconds near the end of the game, however, Indiana strung together a 10-0 run, cutting the deficit to just 5 points. Over the remaining 50 seconds of the game, the Hoosiers cut the deficit down to just one point after Galloway hit a layup.
Indiana’s final look — a 3-point attempt from freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino with just seconds left — would have tied the game, but, like many of Indiana’s attempts from range Saturday, rimmed out.
“We had some good looks tonight, we just didn’t make them,” Woodson said. “It’s a part of the game. I don’t try to read a lot into it when we go through a stretch like this.”
Indiana was down 15 points when Penn State made its last field goal with 2:56 remaining. The Nittany Lions only attempted one more — a 3-pointer with about a minute left that would’ve pushed the lead back out to 10.
Down the stretch, however, the Nittany Lions iced the game from the charity stripe. Penn State made nine free throws following its last bucket and didn’t miss a free throw all game until within the last minute.
A night after Penn State shot 62% from the free throw line, head coach Micah Shrewsberry made a conscious choice not to bring the stat up with his team, instead relying on them to return to the mean as a good free throw shooting team.
“The first couple games, they weren't us, so I didn't even mention it,” Shrewsberry said. “I didn't even talk about it. I just let these guys play. They step up and make shots. That's what they do.”
Indiana had a noticeable deficit in one other category: offensive rebounds. Penn State, who entered the game Saturday dead last in the nation with 5.8 offensive rebounds per game, pulled down nine boards on the offensive glass, leading to 12 second chance points.
Indiana’s loss sends it home from Chicago to wait for its seed in the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced during Sunday’s Selection Show. Additionally, the loss means Indiana’s seniors, Jackson-Davis, Kopp and forward Race Thompson, will end their Big Ten careers without any hardware.
“This is two years in a row now that we are a game from playing for the Big Ten title in this tournament,” Woodson said. “I take pride in what I do as a coach and I gotta help them more. To see my seniors walk away, Trayce, Miller and Race, and not be able to experience a Big Ten championship is disappointing for me.”