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TOM DAVIS: For Indiana, the season comes down to this week

Indiana University men's basketball coach Archie Miller reacts during the second half of a game against Michigan State Friday in East Lansing. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana's Robert Johnson, center, maneuvers between Michigan State's Miles Bridges, left, and Matt McQuaid, right, during the second half of a game Friday in East Lansing, Mich. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana's Freddie McSwain Jr., left, and Michigan State's Xavier Tillman wrestle for the ball during the second half of a game Friday in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 85-57. (By The Associated Press)

There are a lot of critical stretches within a men’s basketball season and Indiana finds itself in the midst of a five-day period in which its season can – more than likely – go one way (up) or the other (down).

The Hoosiers (11-8, 4-3 Big Ten) got pounded – and I mean POUNDED – by Michigan State 85-57 Friday in East Lansing, but the positive is that they have a pair of winnable games on the schedule over the next five days, which if this season is to be salvaged (to some degree) in Bloomington, Indiana has to win them.

These two upcoming games are of the utmost importance because after that, the Hoosiers begins their version of the “Big Ten death march” over the course of a week to close this month.

“It wasn’t our best performance,” first-year Indiana coach Archie Miller said in a postgame press conference Friday. “We weren’t really able to get any of the phases that we wanted to try and be solid defensively.”

Defensively, offensively, and if there were special teams involved in basketball, the Hoosiers would’ve struggled with those too Friday.

Indiana held a 10-9 lead early in the game, but the No. 9-ranked Spartans (17-3, 5-2) tore off on a 27-10 run over the ensuing 5:34 and never looked back.

“They were able to, most of the time, just wear us down,” Miller said. “There were a lot of 50/50 plays; a lot of hustle rebounds, there were a lot of physical things that they came up with.”

Indiana shot just 33.9 percent from the field (30.8 from 3-point range), while allowing Michigan State to cruise with 54.2 percent shooting (50 percent from three).

Up and down the lineup, no Hoosier player, aside from senior guard Robert Johnson, was effective.

Johnson made 7 of 13 shots and finished with 21 points, but he got little help from his teammates.

“He was just being very aggressive,” Miller said of Johnson. “I think he knew that he was going to have to step up and make some plays and he did. He played hard the whole way through.”

On the glass, the Spartans crushed – and I mean CRUSHED – the Hoosiers 45-27, and as they were demoralizing the Hoosiers on the court, Indiana was forced to endure yet another blow emotionally.

Already having to play without starting center De’Ron Davis (Achilles injury) for the remainder of this season, junior forward Juwan Morgan went down late in the first half with an ankle injury and never returned.

The Hoosier star made just one basket the entire night.

“He will be reevaluated at home,” Miller said of his best player.

Without Davis and Morgan inside, the Hoosiers will be forced to play an even smaller lineup moving forward with Freddie McSwain Jr. (6-foot-6), 6-foot-7 athletes Collin Hartman and Justin Smith, along with inexperienced freshman Clifton Moore (6-foot-10) in the paint.

That is a lineup that simply won’t work for any sustained period in this league.

Indiana will host Maryland Monday (7 p.m., FS1), before traveling to Illinois Wednesday. Both of those games are extremely important for the Hoosiers, who have a three-game stretch with league leaders Purdue and Ohio State (on the road), followed by a home game with the Spartans from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3.

If the Hoosiers can’t get a win against the Terrapins or Illini, Friday very likely could have been the start of a seven-game (at minimum, because going to Rutgers after that is no gimme game) losing streak that could essentially finish their season.

“We’ve got to get back to working the next couple of days,” Miller said. “We have an opportunity at home against a really good Maryland team.”

That “opportunity” only has the entire season riding on it.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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