BLOOMINGTON – The Indiana ghost of blown leads lives.
Will it ever end?
The Hoosiers don't get it. They just don't. Basketball IQ -- understanding time and situation -- is hit and miss. Execution under pressure is too often just miss. Staying on your man defensively when your job is to stay on your man becomes too much to ask.
It's February. That can't happen.
But it did, at Assembly Hall of all places, a facility once so intimidating Kentucky coach John Calipari wants nothing to do with it. Wednesday night Indiana went into down-the-stretch submission mode and lost 66-65 to Penn State.
What went wrong?
Sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell searched for answers.
“It comes down to execution at the end of the game. It has to get a lot better. We can't panic on the court. We've got to stay true to ourselves and execute.”
In fact, IU did stay true to its recent self.
It blew a big lead.
Four days earlier, it happened at Minnesota. A couple of weeks ago, it was at Nebraska.
On Wednesday night the Hoosiers led by 13 midway through the second half. They led by 12 with just over three minutes left.
It wasn't enough, but it had to be enough.
“We've got to get more intelligent,” Ferrell said. “It starts with me and Will (Sheehey). It always does. We're the front-runners for that. We've got to be more intelligent with the ball and how we play.”
IU isn't close to playing to its talent level, and youth is no excuse.
Consider this sequence in the final 33 seconds.
Turnover Evan Gordon, a fifth-year senior.
Turnover Sheehey, a fourth-year senior.
Turnover Noah Vonleh, a freshman who normally plays beyond his years.
That's three lost possessions that could have produced six points.
The result: Penn State scored the game's final 10 points, the last two coming on a Tim Frazier driving layup when the Hoosiers' inside defense disappeared.
In a 40-minute game, the Nittany Lions led for only six seconds -- the ones that mattered most.
The Hoosiers are 14-10 overall and 4-7 in the Big Ten. They have lost two straight and three of four. They have a huge game Saturday at rival Purdue, a team with an identical record and a similar knack for turning victory into defeat.
Hold that thought.
Penn State(13-12, 4-8) had plenty to do with IU's collapse. It played with tenacity, passion and intelligence. When it absolutely had to make plays, it did.
The Nittany Lions conceded nothing, even when calls went against them and the deficit seemed insurmountable. This is a team, after all, tough enough to win in overtime at Ohio State.
“These kids are so resilient,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “We might get knocked down but these guys keep getting back up.”
This set a Cream 'n Crimson standard for choking. There's no other way to describe it.
“We gave into the pressure of the game,” coach Tom Crean said.
The Nittany Lions made plays. The Hoosiers blew them.
“Our leadership could have been better at the end,” Crean said.
In the last 2:53, Indiana committed five turnovers that spurred Penn State's 10-0 closing run. It was a stretch that screamed for leadership, poise and smart play. For getting the darn ball in bounds. Instead, it produced panic.
Indiana hasn't learned from its mistakes. Turnovers were a problem in November. They are, in many ways, a bigger one in February. The Hoosiers committed 20 turnovers against Penn State, the fourth time they've had at least 20, and the first since Dec. 31.
That can't happen.
“What hurt us were the turnovers and the ridiculousness of those,” Crean said. “I would say lack of awareness.”
This was equal opportunity self destruction. Nine players had a turnover. Five players had at least two turnovers. Even the anonymous TEAM had two.
That can't happen.
“Coach wants us, when a team goes on a run like Penn State did, guys like me and Will to get our team riled back up,” Ferrell said. “Some guys might have down faces just a little bit because of that run. It's our part to tell these guys we're not going to lose this game. That's what he was looking for.
What Crean got was a team that choked away home-court advantage and made ludicrous the idea that it would make the NCAA tourney.
“We've got a fifth-year senior out there (Gordon) who has to play better,” Crean said. “We've got a fourth-year senior (Sheehey) who has to play better. We've all got to do better.
“We've got to go back to work. We've got to come back. That's the way it is. We've got to get ourselves ready to beat Purdue. That's the bottom line.”