BLOOMINGTON — Tom Crean paced and grimaced and coached full throttle despite the inevitable. Was there any doubt? He pushed and prodded and provoked, working his vocal cords to a frazzle. So what that seconds remained in Tuesday night's Big Ten-ACC Challenge game his Hoosiers could not win. There were points to make, lessons to learn, opportunities to exploit and, in the end, anger to vent.
“We did not defend nearly well enough to win this game or any game,” Crean said in the aftermath of the 80-68 loss to Maryland. “It's disappointing. This was a very winnable game. Maybe I shouldn't say that with all the lack of experience we have. We did not play physical enough or tough enough on the defensive end. It's a learning lesson.”
This is how you rebuild a program, through passion and sweat and tenacity and resolve and, yes, anger. Maryland (5-2) had the veteran edge with three senior starters. In the crunch-time end, that was more than enough.
“They're one of the older teams in the country,” Crean said. “They know how to play together. They never got rattled. They continued to make plays.”
Still, for 31 minutes, despite the defensive inadequacy, the youthful Hoosiers (3-4) had Maryland in trouble. They made enough shots, grabbed enough rebounds, got enough stops to earn a 54-54 tie and a chance, but not a victory.
“Indiana comes right at you,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “What they're doing is a great way to establish the program. They're making it attractive to play. Being aggressive on offense and defense is good. Indiana will be a tough out in the Big Ten.”
Maryland wasn't UCLA at the height of its John Wooden-coached power, but it was a quality ACC team and a prime-time opportunity. The Hoosiers needed a game-changing, program-restoring effort and what better place than at sold-out, white-out, break-out Assembly Hall.
Except that it didn't happen.
“Our press didn't exist,” Williams said. “We had to get out of it. We don't get out of it much but we did tonight. Nothing was working. They were scoring. We were able to take the hit and go play.”
Specifically, the Terrapins played zone and it worked. More specifically, they found hole after hole in the Indiana defense. They shot 56.5 percent in the second half and ended the game on a 26-14 run.
“Our ball pressure was low,” Crean said. “The reason I have so much anger is I know we're capable of playing better. We had a chance to win the game.
“We're trying to rebuild from a train wreck. I understand that here (in the post-game news conference), but I'm not accepting it in there (the locker room). My job is to drive them to higher levels than what they think they're capable of.”
Freshmen Maurice Creek and Christian Watford led IU's offensive way. Creek had 19 points. Watford had 16. No other Hoosier scored in double figures.
Junior guard Jeremiah Rivers offered spectacle, from his crash-and-stagger first-half layup to his block-steal-slam sequence to his pass-into-the-bleachers impatience to his touch-of-stone jumper. He was a swift catalyst, steady rebounder, hustling veteran.
Except that it wasn't enough.
“We don't understand how valuable each possession is,” Rivers said. “We had to just keep it up, keep it up. But we didn't. Instead of them breaking down, we broke down. That's the most disappointing thing.”
Maryland arrived seemingly vulnerable from a two-game losing streak - courtesy of Maui Invitational losses to Cincinnati and Wisconsin - that knocked it out of the top 25. The poor shooting that plagued the Terrapins there was still around. It hit just two of its first eight shots. IU duplicated that accuracy for a 5-5 tie.
IU lost Rivers a minute into the game. He'd just made a spectacular reverse layup, hit the floor and got stepped on by a teammate. He lay on the floor for several minutes before being helped to the locker room by team doctor Larry Rink and trainer Tim Garl. Rivers returned midway through the first half.
The Terrapins came in averaging 10.8 turnovers. They finished the first half with 12, fell into a pair seven-point holes, yet managed a 35-33 halftime lead.
Maryland surged to a six-point second-half lead. IU surged back to tie and then to lead.
Crunch time arrived and the Terrapins' 5-0 run broke a 54-54 tie. They edged ahead by seven with four minutes left and Crean called a timeout for a quick meeting of the minds. Could the Hoosiers rally?
“Tom is doing a great job,” Williams said. “He's got the crowd into it. That's important. He's got good kids. They work hard. That will attract more players. He's in a tough league. To build a program you have to be patient. They'll beat some people.”
Added Crean: “We're not ready to take that next step. Resistance is hard for a young team to understand. You have to have will.”
He paused, the throttle still on full.
“I love it here. I chose to come here. I believe in these guys. They can do more.”