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Saturday, March 2
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

COLUMN: Indiana basketball blown out by Purdue in painful reminder of steep regression

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Indiana sophomore center Kel’el Ware walked slowly, hands on hips. Senior forward Anthony Walker trudged back to the huddle, eyes glancing up at the scoreboard. Sophomore guard C.J. Gunn caught an earful from Purdue senior guard Lance Jones. 

There wasn’t much the trio of Hoosiers could say or do. 

Purdue senior forward Mason Gillis had just cashed back-to-back 3-pointers, giving the Boilermakers a 26-point advantage halfway through the second half.  

On the same court less than a year prior, Indiana took an 8-point victory, perhaps the highlight of head coach Mike Woodson’s tenure. 

This time around, the Hoosiers produced one of the biggest lowlights in Woodson’s three years at the helm, falling 79-59 to the Boilermakers on Saturday night inside Mackey Arena. 

Last year, it was the sight of so many highs — Jalen Hood-Schifino's 35-point outburst, Trey Galloway’s game-sealing dunk, the Hoosiers’ first sweep of Purdue in a decade — but now, it’s home to discouraging lows centered around the program’s direction. 

Indiana went 2-0 against Purdue last season. It’s now 0-2 against the Boilermakers this year, losing by a combined 41 points. 

The Hoosiers are 14-10 overall and 6-7 in Big Ten play. Last year, in a span of 24 games, Indiana was 17-7 and 8-5 against conference foes. This is the reality of Woodson’s third team — the reality of the current state of Indiana basketball. 

And yet, Woodson continues to issue the same explanation as the blowout defeats mount and concerns around his abilities rise. 

“I’m not frustrated,” Woodson said postgame. “We have a young team that’s still trying to figure each other out. We haven’t been able to put 40-minute ballgames together like we have in the past. That’s been some of the frustration.” 

Before this season, Indiana was 3-1 against Purdue under Woodson. Its lone loss was by 2 points two years ago in Mackey. Woodson said he thought the Hoosiers were right there with Purdue in each season, even though the Boilermakers won 14 more games during that time. 

The difference this year, Woodson believes, is Purdue’s experience, as it returns a trio of starts from last year’s Big Ten-winning squad, including All-American center Zach Edey and sophomore guards Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. 

Conversely, of the nine Indiana players who took the court in West Lafayette last season, only two were back in action Saturday night. 

Woodson also noted the absence of sixth-year senior point guard Xavier Johnson, who missed his third straight game with an elbow injury. Without Johnson, the Hoosiers are losing a veteran leader and floor general while putting more on freshman Gabe Cupps’ plate. Cupps, who started in place of Johnson, failed to score in 16 minutes. 

In essence, Indiana’s a much different team this year than last, while much of Purdue’s nucleus is back. Advantage: Boilermakers. 

“They have grown together,” Woodson said. “We revamped our team this summer with 10 new players on our ballclub and we’re young — I’m not using that as an excuse. I still expect to win, but it kind of caught us a little bit. But we still got a lot of basketball left.” 

But the issue is that Woodson had 11 scholarships open, only used 10, and hasn’t been able to find much success post-Trayce Jackson-Davis. 

Yes, Indiana’s young, but it's played 24 games. If the Hoosiers haven’t figured each other out by now, it’s fair to wonder if they ever will. Nevertheless, it’s likely too late for postseason contention anyway. 

Woodson said Indiana’s still in the thick of the things, firmly planted in the middle of the pack. Of the Big Ten’s 14 teams, nine have won between five and seven games, including the Hoosiers. 

Indiana is, mathematically, right around league average — but in Woodson’s third year, with back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances setting a promising tone, expectations were much higher. So is the standard for Indiana basketball. 

The Hoosiers have seven games left. Four of them are at home, starting Feb. 18 against Northwestern. There’s still time to salvage something, anything, from an otherwise lost season. 

But Indiana’s shown no signs of being able to find itself before the calendar turns to next year, with Woodson noting postgame he’ll need to revamp the roster again this offseason. 

“We’ve got to continue to grow as a team,” Woodson said. “We’re going to have to add some pieces. The season’s not over yet ... and anything can happen.” 

The Hoosiers were 17.5-point underdogs Saturday night, their largest projected defeat this season. Purdue still covered the spread. 

Indiana’s now lost seven games by double digits, including four by 20 or more points. It’s 0-7 against teams currently ranked in the top 25. 

Regardless of the results of the past two years or the youth of this team, the Hoosiers are a long way from where they need — and are expected — to be. 

Still, they’re optimistic. 

“We know our season isn’t over,” Galloway said. “It’s far from over. This one game hurts, and it’s a rivalry, but seven more games, and take it one game at a time and try to win every one of them.” 

Woodson strayed away from saying he was frustrated. Ware flat-out denied it. 

But Indiana — armed with the resources and open roster spaces to field a roster capable of competing atop the Big Ten — is a long way from where the standard should be; and instead of getting another step closer, took several steps backward this season. 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

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