BLOOMINGTON -- Inevitability loomed and the Hoosier Nation wanted no part of it.
So they streamed out of Assembly Hall, 41 seconds still on the clock, the consequence of a Wisconsin team too mentally and fundamentally tough, too poised in what needed to be done, for the Indiana Hoosiers.
That’s a shame.
Tuesday night was another harsh lesson in reality, coming by a 75-68 score that easily could have been a second straight double-digit disaster.
IU is not the equal of a top-15 team.
Victories over Kansas and North Caroline might as well have happened in another century. The No. 25 Hoosiers (10-5) have lost three straight, two at Assembly Hall, where they once seemed invincible, and there’s no telling when the free-fall will end.
That, too, is a shame.
“The fight in us has to be better,” forward Juwan Morgan said. “In those games (against Kansas and North Carolina), you saw a full 40-minute fight. We had some mistakes, but we never let the mistakes stack together. That’s what the difference is.”
Somewhere, perhaps in the run of eight home games against patsies, the fight was lost.
“We have to grow as a group,” Morgan said. “We don’t let anyone stray off. We’re all for each other on and off the court. We just have to keep building.”
The No. 13 Badgers (13-2 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten) have spent more than a decade kicking Hoosier behinds, and nothing has changed. They’ve won 16 of the last 18 meetings, and for those who enjoy punishment, they’ll meet again on Feb. 5 at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin loses about as often as Bronson Koenig misses three-pointers.
On Tuesday night, the Badgers senior guard didn’t miss. He was 5-for-5 beyond the arc for 17 points.
IU is 0-2 in the Big Ten, with both losses coming in Assembly Hall, where a week ago it had a 26-game home winning streak.
Now, with a closing schedule of four road trips in the final five games, its odds of repeating as conference champs are almost as bleak as Ronda Rousey’s prospects of returning to UFC dominance.
That’s a big problem, although coach Tom Crean pushed perspective.
“We have a lot of season to play. It’s the first week of January.”
Still, the Hoosiers are not playing to their talent. Against Louisville last Saturday, they led for just over two minutes. Against Wisconsin, it was just 1:40.
Yes, the Badgers are, if you believe the kenpom.com ratings, the nation’s most experienced team. They return all five starters from a Sweet 16 squad, and have a nine-game winning streak to prove it, but that’s a side issue to Hoosier woes.
If IU doesn’t turn this around fast, it’s looking at a NIT bid -- or worse.
You’d better believe that would be a shame.
“I’m not frustrated,” Morgan said. “I’m confident in everybody, confident in the team, the staff, everyone around the program.”
IU’s worst-possible start produced a 13-0 deficit with four turnovers in its first five possessions against a defense that doesn’t pressure.
“We broke down completely on the defensive side,” Morgan said. “That’s not who we are.”
Added Crean: “I don’t know what to tell you about the start. It made no sense that we were giving them as much space as we gave them.”
Wisconsin led by 14 points before the Hoosiers finally woke up. They took their first lead with two minutes left in the half on a James Blackmon three-pointer. Still, Wisconsin led 38-37 at halftime, then surged ahead early in the second half for a seven-point advantage that IU wiped out with a 9-0 run. Freshman De’ron Davis emerged as a game-changing post presence. The crowd, even without students because of semester break, roared.
The Hoosiers seemed poise for a dramatic victory.
It was fool’s gold. The Badgers took care of that. They owned the final seven minutes because, coach Greg Gard said, they put maximum value on every possession.
“Our guys are used to playing in that situation, where we expect them to do good things on every possession and not just turn it up in the last four to five minutes.”
Crean can’t let the struggles shatter team chemistry and resolve. He addressed it right after the game.
“That’s the No. 1 thing. We get that squared away. It gets done with work. It’s not two-a-day, three-a-day type of work. We don’t run them into the ground.
“It’s definitive work getting better at the fundamentals. You don’t talk about it. You just do it.”
These Hoosiers had better do it. Otherwise, well, it would be a shame.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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