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Hoosiers will learn from loss to UConn

Young team got look at toughness needed in Big Ten.

Indiana gained from losing. Keep that in mind.

It lost a prime-time basketball thriller. Big deal.

The Hoosiers will be better for their 59-58 defeat to No. 18 Connecticut. You’d better believe freshman Noah Vonleh will be.

Friday night’s 2K Sports Classic finale at New York City’s Madison showed Indiana in all its youthful flaws and athletic promise. Point guard Yogi Ferrell came up big – again (19 points). Will Sheehey was good (12 points, five rebounds, three assists). Freshman Devin Davis was career-high special (seven points, seven rebounds).

It wasn’t enough against Connecticut (6-0). Guard Shabazz Napier showed what an MVP looks like with 27 points, 11 in the final seven minutes. And even he wasn’t immune to the intensity, finishing with seven turnovers.

IU’s first five games were fool’s gold in terms of what Big Ten play is like. Friday night was the real deal, a battle from the opening tip with every mistake magnified, every big play a potential game changer.

Vonleh got a glimpse of his Big Ten future, when only the most tough-minded of players excel. In 10 foul-plagued minutes, he scored no points and grabbed two rebounds after entering the game averaging in double figures in both categories.

He finished with four turnovers and four fouls.

His lesson, and that of all the Hoosiers, is that you have to fail to succeed, stumble before walking, lose before winning.

“This is a young group,” coach Tom Crean told radio announcer Don Fischer after the game. “We didn’t play great, but we learned a lot. We battled. We’re a much improved team (from the season opener), and if (we) stay with that, we’ll be great.”

IU fell behind by six points in the first half, by eight in the second. Each time it battled back. If not for a couple of crunch-time turnovers, it might have pulled out the victory.

“We matched them toe for toe,” Crean told Fischer. “So many times a young team would have gotten down. We never did. We kept coming back.”

The aftermath leaves the Hoosiers with much to work on. IU needs more efficient offense when the attack-the-basket strategy bogs down. That means more offensive patience, more ball reversal, more screening and cutting.

It’s easy to score when you’re going to the line 40 times. But good teams, physical teams, teams that have the length and athleticism to match the Hoosiers, will take that away.

Teams such as UConn. Teams such as Syracuse, for instance, which looms in the Hoosier future in a couple of weeks.

“There’s a lot to learn from this,” Crean told Fischer. “It doesn’t matter the style of play. You have to respond to it.”

On Friday night Indiana pushed an unforgiving pace that against the Washingtons of the world would have produced a double-digit lead. Against Connecticut, it led to 12 turnovers and a 30-24 halftime deficit.

The Hoosiers’ shooting was suspect, part of the reason why Ferrell had zero first-half assists. Their rebounding took an early hit with Vonleh’s two quick fouls. Instantly they were without their best rebounder and inside presence.

Still, IU stayed within range, falling behind by six, rallying for a tie. It might have gained a halftime lead if Napier, one of the nation’s best point guards, hadn’t abandoned his passing game for a scorer’s mentality to bury a pair of tough-minded three-pointers and produce six points of separation.

The second half featured more Vonleh foul trouble (life is never as easy as it was for him in the first five games) and highlight moments from Evan Gordon, Sheehey, Jeremy Hollowell and even Austin (No Longer the Forgotten Man) Etherington.

It almost was enough.

It wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter. How the Hoosiers respond to it does.

<br> <center>Online </center> <br>

For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio on Twitter at pdiprimio

<br> <center>Up next </center> <br>

Tipoff: Evansville at Indiana, 8 p.m. Tuesday

Radio: 1250-AM

TV: BTN

<br><i> This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com. </i>

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