BLOOMINGTON — Do you believe in symbolism?
In the first half of what became another Indiana basketball debacle against Michigan, coach Tom Crean took an unintentional shot from Wolverine forward Moritz Wagner, who had just hit a three and pivoted to head back up the court. He ran into Crean, knocking him to the floor in front of the scorer’s table.
Crean quickly bounced up, which was something the Hoosiers never did.
Are you surprised?
The Hoosiers (15-11 overall, 5-8 Big Ten) have lost three straight and five of six. They have played their way into disarray, with no end in sight.
The Wolverines (16-9 overall, 6-6 in the Big Ten), which began the day with just one win at Assembly Hall in the last 18 attempts, are 2-0 against IU this season with an average victory margin of 21 points.
“Not a great performance by any stretch,” Crean said.
“We’ve all got to play better.”
“Some of it is ridiculous. Some of it is just absolute remedial nonsense. I’m trying to bite my tongue so I can get to work.”
Once upon a time, basketball was a thing of beauty to watch at Assembly Hall, like a Roger Federer tennis backhand.
On Sunday, it wasn’t even close.
Misery comes closest to mind.
That’s been true so often this season, it’s become the norm and not the aberration. You won’t hear that from the Hoosiers.
“We’ve got to come together and stay strong,” freshman center De’Ron Davis said. On this day, he was the strongest Hoosier, bouncing back from a blow to the face against Purdue to score a team-leading 13 points in 14 off-the-bench minutes.
IU is now fodder in its own building. It has lost four home games this season, including two straight. There have been times when it didn’t lose that many times in Assembly Hall in half a decade.
On Sunday, the Hoosiers never led against a team that began the day 0-6 in true road games.
They have become the cure for opponent ills.
That’s a shame.
“Our maturity has got to raise,” Crean said.
“I’m trying to be pro-active. I’m not shirking responsibility one bit. It falls on me. It all falls on me.”
This fall leaves you wondering if the Hoosiers' next win will come next season. If you can't win at home against the likes of Michigan and Nebraska, decent teams but far from great ones, where can you win?
In retrospect, IU’s season should have ended after the North Carolina win in late November, when all things seemed possible, even a NCAA tourney appearance.
Now, well, it’s NIT at best, and even that seems less likely, although you also won’t hear that from the Hoosiers.
“Everything we started off wanting (is still there),” guard Robert Johnson said. “We still have a lot of opportunities.
“We’re not even thinking about quitting. We always look forward to the next game, and getting better, and the next opportunity.”
For the record, there are five regular season opportunities left, four on the road, starting Wednesday at Minnesota. A fast finish seems as likely as a zero turnover day.
Also for the record, IU’s 15 turnovers resulted in 20 Michigan points.
Would a players’ only meeting help?
“I don’t know,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, we all have to come together and get better once and for all. Whatever it takes.”
You can’t commit turnovers the way IU does and defend the way it does and win at a high level.
You just can’t.
The Hoosiers have become a team of veteran no-shows, a revolving door where, for whatever reason, the best players aren’t consistently at their best.
On Sunday, starters James Blackmon, Thomas Bryant and Johnson combined for 19 points on 7-for-22 shooting with seven assists and eight turnovers.
That’s not close to being good enough.
It has nothing to do with injuries.
Repeat as often as is necessary.
And so the Hoosier Nation faithful boo and sigh and wish for better. They yearn for it.
It remains as elusive as a rainbow’s pot of gold — or some tough-minded, crunch-time play.
The Hoosiers remain resistant to the concept that sometimes it’s OK to let the other team play defense for 25 seconds rather than drive into transition disaster. In part, that’s by design. Crean wants a fast pace that attacks before a defense gets set.
For the last five years, it worked, producing the Big Ten’s best offense.
But in the last three games, IU has scored 60, 64 and 63 points. In Sunday’s first half, IU had 10 baskets and 10 turnovers, the kind of balance that can ruin a season.
In so many ways, this season is a ruin, and the reasons are fast-moving targets dependent on perspective.
But one thing is crystal clear:
It’s not nearly good enough.