“You gotta be able to make more than that,” said Archie Miller.
It’s unjustified to expect a basketball team to outperform its talent level. A team can push the limits and play beyond the constraints of its athleticism and skill, but that only comes with good fortune and high effort. It can happen, but expecting it is unwarranted.
With that in mind, all that you can truly expect from a team lacking in the talent component of the game is to follow the simple coaching cliche of “controlling the controllables.” Tonight, and realistically all season long, Indiana failed to control one of basketball’s greatest “controllables.”
In a game that Indiana quite simply couldn’t lose, 13 missed, uncontested shots from 15 feet away from the basket stole Indiana’s hopes at even approaching a tournament bid.
Coming into tonight, Illinois had lost all eight of its games against Big Ten opponents. Without question, Illinois was and still remains the worst team in a terrible conference. The “Fighting Illini” serve the Big Ten by providing teams an opportunity to relax and carefully restore their stamina during a rigorous Big Ten schedule. With the 148th best adjusted offensive efficiency in the nation, Illinois serves the Big Ten as that game on everyone’s schedule labeled “Easy Win.” For Indiana, this game should have been labeled as a “Must Win.”
Tonight, Indiana did the inexcusable. The Hoosiers relinquished an “Easy Win” by shooting 16-for-29 from the free throw line, giving away 13 points, which would have easily made the difference.
“It seems to become something for our team that’s a little bit contagious,” Archie Miller said in regards to Indiana’s free throw shooting.
It’s the simplest things which make you the maddest. Tonight, Archie Miller appeared agitated and honestly confused, but not from the onset.
The game started how it should have. Indiana had a 16 to 8 lead after nine minutes of basketball and Juwan Morgan appeared to be prepared to carry his team once again to victory with nine points in that time. In the entirety of the first half, the Hoosiers looked like the aggressor. The ball movement mimicked the performance of Indiana’s last win against Maryland, Indiana controlled Illinois’ biggest strong suit which was offensive rebounding, and Indiana even found scoring support for Juwan Morgan from Zach McRoberts and Robert Johnson as the two combined for points in the first half.
Then, it all evaporated, and with that agitation followed.
By the end of the game Indiana found itself with 18 turnovers, surrendering 22 points off of those miscues. Indiana also went an entire seven minutes in the second half without a basket.
Indiana seemingly did everything they could to giveaway this basketball game in the second half. Yet, the Hoosiers still had a chance because Illinois is a basketball team that had yet to have beaten a Big Ten opponent. Illinois is a basketball team that will let you make mistakes. Illinois is a basketball team that only requires one thing from its opponents.
All Indiana had to do was the simplest facet of basketball. All Indiana had to do was hit three more free shots.
“You have pride in your individual game, then you gotta get in the gym a little more,” said Archie Miller.
It’s a simple sentiment, but it says it all. Free throws aren’t indicative of talent level. It wasn’t absurd to expect the Hoosiers to convert on the basic opportunities in which they were given. It hasn’t been absurd to expect that all season. Even with those expectations, the Hoosiers haven’t delivered. Shooting 67 percent from the free throw line, Indiana has squandered the simplest facet of the game all season.
In the face of a unique season, defined by chaotic change, the simple things let Indiana down. Unlike the 15 foot shot that has hampered the Hoosiers, now the NCAA Tournament is a long shot.