The No. 2 Hoosiers had an outright Big Ten title within reach and fumbled it away Tuesday night against Ohio State. An NCAA tourney No. 1 seed is suddenly at risk.
We'll get to that in a moment.
Indiana had an electric Assembly Hall crowd, senior night motivation and the perfect opportunity.
It blew it.
Yes, the 67-58 defeat settled nothing. IU (13-4 in the Big Ten) can still clinch with a Sunday win at Michigan. Heck, the Hoosiers still had a net-cutting ceremony for having already clinched a share of the title, still passed out a championship trophy (President Michael McRobbie to coach Tom Crean) despite the bitter defeat.
“There was no question we would do that,” Crean said. “These guys earned that.
“This was the epitome of bittersweet. We tried to celebrate what these guys earned. We didn't earn it tonight. We'll move forward in a hurry and get ready for a great Michigan team. All our stuff is correctable.”
Still, this Assembly Hall meltdown suggests the Michigan trip won't end well, especially given the No. 7 Wolverines are unbeaten at home.
Just don't tell that to Crean.
“I know we didn't have the night we would have liked,” he said. “We still have a share of that Big Ten championship. We're all disappointed in the result, but not in how we got to this point. Everything we've done has been earned.”
Earning has not come easily in this program's resurrection from the Kelvin Sampson coaching debacle.
So why should this be different?
IU (25-5 overall) has lost two of its last three games and didn't look great in beating Iowa. Fourteenth-ranked Ohio State (22-7) handed the Hoosiers their worst loss of the season and did it at Assembly Hall where you figured they'd never lose once, let alone twice (remember Wisconsin?).
This is not the way you want to finish the regular season, especially if you're looking for your first NCAA top seed since 1993.
The Hoosiers have five days to regroup and re-energize. They have bounced back in the past.
Can they do it again?
They talk like they can. Senior guard Jordan Hulls pointed to the Assembly Hall wall that contains the program's five national championship banners.
“We've got a lot of things left in the season,” Hulls said during the post-game senior night ceremony. “We want to do some work on that wall.”
In other words, add a sixth banner.
For now, though, the focus is on a new Big Ten banner.
“We'll hang our own banner up there,” Crean said. “These guys have worked to a point they earned it. They looked at those banners every day. They'll get a chance to hang one whether we share it or not. We wish it would have been a win. It wasn't.”
Ohio State, meanwhile, is still fighting for a share of the Big Ten crown. With a 12-5 conference record, it can get it with another IU loss and a Buckeye win over Illinois in Columbus on Sunday. That would give them four straight Big Ten titles and six in the last eight years.
Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin also are in contention, although Wisconsin and Michigan State will cut that number by one when they play Thursday at the Breslin Center.
So what went wrong Tuesday night?
The Buckeyes got physical. They were tough-minded on the boards (a 37-32 rebound edge), in offensive execution (45.8 percent shooting, 48.4 percent in the second half) and ball security (just eight turnovers to Indiana's 12).
“We were much more active in terms of defense,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “It was no secret what they were trying to do — go inside with (forward Cody) Zeller and (forward Christian) Watford. It was overall more activity. Guys knew they were going to have to play hard the entire game, and they took it seriously.”
What was set up as a Cream and Crimson coronation became an unwanted thriller from the opening tip. Long gone was the memory of last month's Hoosier domination in Columbus, when they did whatever they wanted in an 81-68 victory.
IU wanted a fast start. It didn't happen. Ohio State led early, stayed even, pushed ahead late.
Hulls found his early jumper after an 0-for-7 Assembly Hall effort three days earlier against Iowa. With Victor Oladipo and Zeller benched for most of the first half by two fouls each, offense was needed.
It came slowly. The Hoosiers didn't score in the final 4:50 of the first half. Ohio State capitalized with a 7-0 run for a 28-25 halftime lead. It was IU's lowest scoring half of the season.
The second-half offense was better, mostly because Oladipo and Zeller played most of it. IU, in fact, hit its first seven shots to take a five-point lead it couldn't hold. Zeller wound up with 17 points.
Still, Ohio State dictated. It rallied to build a series of five-point leads. And then, with the Hoosiers pushing for a tie, the Buckeyes' Deshaun Thomas (the former Bishop Luers standout) hit a three-pointer to spark a 15-8 closing run that ruined the night.
To put everything in perspective, in the final 14 minutes, with so much at stake, IU was 5-for-16 from the field and committed six turnovers.
“It was too many mental errors stacking on top of each other,” forward Derek Elston said.
In other words, the Hoosiers blew it.
Up nextTipoff: Indiana at Michigan, 4 p.m. Sunday
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