Indiana basketball's tournament hopes grim after Penn State loss

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana’s collapse Wednesday night played out like a dream sequence, the kind of nightmare you have to spend five minutes convincing yourself wasn’t real when you wake up.

The 3 1/2-minute implosion, in a 66-65 home loss to last-place Penn State, was a perfect storm of mistakes, shoelaces-tied-together stuff all over the floor. It now leaves Indiana’s NCAA tournament hopes in pieces, and its season run aground.

The last of several opportunities to put away Penn State came with 3:34 left, when the Hoosiers (14-10, 4-7) took a 63-51 lead. Indiana would score two more points the rest of the night.

At that point, IU was in the double bonus. One of the Big Ten’s best free-throw shooting teams was poised to close out the game at the free-throw line.

Turnovers, defensive mistakes and an inability to simply get the ball inbounds all combined to limit Indiana to just two more shot attempts and four more free throws the rest of the way. Penn State closed the game on a 15-2 run.

“We lost this game defensively by allowing them to stay in it with mistakes,” IU coach Tom Crean said, “and then the pressure of the game got to us.”

Timeouts were called, substitutions and adjustments made. Nothing stemmed the rising Nittany Lion tide, every Indiana mistake only serving to further embolden the visitors. IU turned the ball over four times in the last 2:09, leading directly to six Penn State points.

The last two cost Indiana the game.

This was a total system failure, responsibility falling on every shoulder on Indiana’s bench. Wednesday, no coach or player was immune to criticism, and to questions about how exactly such a defeat could be allowed.

“We’ve all got to do better,” Crean said postgame.

Indiana did not score in the game’s final two minutes. In that span, the Hoosiers turned the ball over three times on failed inbounds plays alone, one five-second call and two intercepted passes.

The Hoosiers’ disastrous finish invoked memories of Lipscomb in late 2008, when IU surrendered a 21-point lead to lose to their visitors from the Atlantic Sun. Crean’s team has let second-half leads slip away this season — at Minnesota, at Michigan State, at Nebraska — but this was less a stumble than a face plant.

Indiana was a preseason Top 25 team in most polls and on most ballots. With a strong recruiting class incoming and returners poised to assume bigger roles, another NCAA Tournament bid seemed a reasonable aim.

Now, any talk of the postseason must begin with lesser competitions. Absent a Big Ten Tournament title and the resulting automatic bid, Indiana is almost surely not destined for the field of 68.

This team lacks the balance provided by a natural jump shooter. It has struggled all season with turnovers, with little reprieve (Indiana committed 20 on Wednesday). Crean has consistently pointed out his team’s youth, but 24 games into the season, he’s growing frustrated with his experienced players as well.

“Our leadership could have been better at the end,” Crean said Wednesday night.

There have been many causes and many flaws that have led Indiana to its current position in the bottom third of the Big Ten standings more than halfway through the conference season.

All of it — turnovers, poor execution, bad decisions in critical moments — came together in one perfectly awful sequence, turning what looked like a fairly routinely victory into a demoralizing defeat.

Crean refused to “psychoanalyze” his team after the loss. With a trip to Purdue less than three days away, he doesn’t have time.

“We’ve just got to go back to work tomorrow,” Crean said.

More News