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Tuesday, April 16
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

COLUMN: What’s wrong with Indiana basketball? Look no further than Nebraska

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For more photos, see PHOTOS: Indiana men's basketball falls flat against Nebraska

Nebraska senior guard Keisei Tominaga stared at the Cornhuskers bench, right arm down, left hand covering his right bicep, celebrating his 18th point and fourth made 3-pointer of Wednesday night’s first half. 

On the other end, Indiana freshman guard Gabe Cupps airballed an uncontested floater. Sophomore guard CJ Gunn’s putback attempt didn’t fall. Moments later, Nebraska hit a pair of free throws to push its lead to 51-31. 

The Hoosiers have had many lows this season — but perhaps none lower than trailing by 20 points at halftime inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to a team that hasn’t won a road game in the Big Ten. 

Indiana (14-12, 6-9 Big Ten) rallied in the second half, trimming its deficit to 59-56, but watched as Nebraska (19-8, 9-7 Big Ten) dominated the final 11 minutes en route to an 85-70 thumping. 

By now, Indiana’s shown who it is, and once again played to the identity it’s established this season. 

The Hoosiers struggle shooting both free throws and 3-pointers. Their guard play is subpar. They’re often dramatically outscored from beyond the arc. 

Each issue appeared against the Cornhuskers. So, too, did Indiana’s losing ways, as it’s lost four of its last five games, including three straight overall. It’s also fallen in three consecutive contests at Assembly Hall. 

Not only have the Hoosiers lost, but they’ve been uncompetitive for large spurts. They’ve played five games in February and trailed by double digits in every one of them, only salvaging a victory Feb. 6 against Ohio State. Otherwise, they’ve lost three games by at least 14 points and another by four. 

Indiana went 4-of-21 from 3-point range and 14-of-24 at the free throw line against Nebraska. It’s the fifth time this season the Hoosiers have shot worse than 20% from distance and the eighth time they’ve shot worse than 60% at the foul stripe. 

Senior guard Trey Galloway had 8 points and three assists in 39 minutes. Cupps didn’t score nor record an assist. Conversely, Nebraska’s starting backcourt — Tominaga and senior Brice Williams — combined for 38 points and five assists. 

Indiana head coach Mike Woodson singled out backcourt play as a key reason for the Hoosiers’ struggles this season, with sixth-year senior point guard Xavier Johnson’s extended injury-related absence forcing additional pressure on Cupps to run the show. 

“We're young, missing our senior point guard, trying to play a freshman at point guard,” Woodson said postgame. “It's tough. Gallo struggled tonight trying to play the point with his six turnovers. It's a lot that comes into play with that. We played well enough this year in spurts, but not well enough to complete ball games. That's what makes it frustrating.” 

The Cornhuskers had nine triples in the first half alone, ultimately finishing with 14. Indiana’s made nine or more 3-pointers only twice all season. Nebraska generated 42 points from beyond the arc to the Hoosiers’ 12. 

Indiana doesn’t have a player like Tominaga on its roster — an energy-filled shooter who’s connected on over 90% of his free throws and 38% of his 3-pointers. The barrage of triples, the enthusiastic reactions, the urgency to find his shot — it all seemed so foreign to the team that’s encapsulated Assembly Hall this season. 

“We missed free throws, didn't shoot the three ball,” Woodson said. “I mean, you cut the lead to three in a close game, those are plays you’ve got to complete.” 

The Hoosiers were reminded of their shortcomings in frequent intervals Wednesday night, as fans booed as early as eight minutes into the game. 

The audible expressions of displeasure reappeared after sophomore forward Malik Reneau missed a free throw with six minutes left in the first half and reached new heights as Indiana entered the halftime locker room. 

“It's part of it,” Galloway said. “I can't worry about that. I’ve got to worry about helping my team, and we got to be focused on each other and can't worry about the outside noise. Just be a unit and stick together.” 

Indiana never led Nebraska. After junior forward Juwan Gary scored a layup to give the Cornhuskers a 2-0 lead 49 seconds into the game, they never looked back. The Hoosiers didn’t compete in the first half, Woodson said, and stopped competing after clawing back.

Nevertheless, their brief fight back showed Woodson they still have a heartbeat — but their postseason hopes are on life support. Only one path to the NCAA Tournament still realistically exists: winning the Big Ten Tournament, something Indiana’s never done in 26 attempts.

This isn’t the way Woodson’s third year was supposed to go. Not after making the tournament in his first two years and certainly not considering the historical excellence of Indiana’s program. 

But the Hoosiers, as Woodson said, are in a rut, and they won’t find empathy from anyone — not even their own fans. 

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for Indiana basketball,” Woodson said. “They're not. My locker room is down. As a coach I got to keep pumping them up and see if I can get them to overcome being down and get us back into winning ways.” 

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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