About three minutes into this basketball game, I had goosebumps. It’s the nature of the Indiana-Purdue rivalry. No matter where either program is in its season, it seems as if every matchup between the two teams is destined for chaos and beauty.
This game was no exception. Purdue entered Assembly Hall as the third best team in the country with the best three-point shooting on planet earth. Purdue entered Assembly Hall as the heavy favorite that outmatched Indiana in every conceivable facet. And yet, for moments in Assembly Hall, the two seemed like equals. Temporarily perceived equals, that were never really equal.
Indiana’s effort against Purdue was its best of the season. Indiana played its best basketball game of the season, and yet it wasn’t enough to beat Purdue with the Boilermakers winning its 17th straight game of the season 74-67.
It was never going to be enough.
Despite the fact that the tallest player on the floor for Indiana was 6-foot-8 Juwan Morgan, Indiana out-rebounded Purdue 31-30. The Hoosiers out-rebounded a Purdue team that consisted of two monstrous 7-footers in Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms, by simply out hustling the Boilermakers in the low-post.
Indiana held a Purdue team that usually shoots 44-percent from three-point range to an uncharacteristic 28-percent. Indiana came into the day as the worst team in the Big Ten at defending the three, but today they made it a focus to close out on the perimeter.
“From a three-point perspective, they had been shooting the ball at an unbelievable level that at some level you would hope the numbers would come back,” Archie Miller said. “They missed some good ones. But I thought for the most part our guys did a good job of being on shooters and challenging shots when we could.”
Juwan Morgan had another almost mind-boggling performance that seemed to be driven by his unrelenting will to win. Morgan out hustled every player on the floor and dominated offensively in the post with 24 points and seven rebounds. The junior forward even put up a remarkable defensive performance while attempting to handle the size of Isaac Haas by adding two blocks.
Robert Johnson seemingly played one of the best games of his career, hitting contested jumpers almost every time Indiana needed a basket. He also was incredibly intelligent in his shot selection by consistently passing up tough threes to drive to the basket. Johnson also showed once again why he is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, tightly controlling Purdue’s guards and denying the ball off hand-offs. This led to Johnson putting up 21 points and six rebounds.
“Rob is really ready to play,” Miller said. “He’s a great leader; wants to do well; wants our team to do well. He’s about all the right things. I thought he really set the tone very early about how aggressive he was going to be. He made big shots, tough shots for us throughout the game. His defense for 36 minutes was really, really good. I thought he really battled defensively. To me, Rob is an Iron Man for us. I think he is just a senior who has been doing things the right way. I think he just wants to finish as strong as he can. ”
Indiana did their best to try and stop 7-foot-2 Purdue big man Isaac Haas today. But the undersized Hoosiers couldn't contain him down low as he finished with 26 points in the 74-67 loss. #iubb pic.twitter.com/RLNlIBfykk
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 29, 2018
While Johnson put together one of his best games of his career, Freddie McSwain Jr. had the best game of his career by far. McSwain had eight points by taking advantage of Purdue’s loose pick and roll defense and he also played a pivotal role in the defense of Isaac Haas.
“Freddie did a really good job,” Miller said. “He played strong. Obviously I thought he battled. Then from an offensive perspective he gave us some great activity on the offensive glass withe some taps and a couple finishes. So Freddie really came and helped us today. He’s going to need to. I think Collin will be out for an extended period of time, so we’ll need to move J-Mo back maybe to the small forward position and have Freddie in there a little bit more with Justin.”
As a team, Indiana did a great job moving the ball only accumulating 10 turnovers.
Justin Smith stepped up to the occasion of the game with four rebounds in first four minutes of the game and even Al Durham found himself ready for the moment with a crucial three-point play in the second half.
In it all, Indiana was also backed by an Assembly Hall crowd that was as loud as it was all season, pushing the Hoosiers through constant adversity.
Indiana played its best game of the season in every facet and yet, it was never going to be enough. Indiana could have cured a major disease at halftime, and it was never going to be enough. It’s an unfortunate sentiment, but the current injury ridden status of the team makes it a reality. Indiana played its best game and no matter how well they played, there was always going to be a ceiling.
Today, that ceiling was 7-foot-2.
“The big fella was the difference,” Miller said. “He neutralizes the game. Matt (Painter) does an unbelievable job of just getting him the ball where he doesn’t need to do a lot to catch and score. He’s so big. And we knew that coming in and that was going to be a problem.”
Indiana had the best approach possible to handling Haas, but it was never going to stop him. The Hoosiers held faith in McSwain and Morgan to defend Haas one-on-one in the post and the two did the best that they could. Indiana tried to double in the post and quickly realized that it wasn’t viable thanks to Haas’ passing ability, and with that the Hoosiers let Haas score 26 points.
There was no stopping him and there never was going to be a way to do so. With Indiana not fielding a single player within five inches of Haas, the destiny was always going to be at least 26 points for the Boilermaker big man.
“We didn’t do a good enough job in our post coverage,” Miller said. “At times, we had to stay in between him and the basket and make him earn tough baskets at times when we trapped. But when we post trapped tonight, it really cost us. I mean it really cost us. Our perimeter guys were completely non-existent on post traps.”
The Hoosiers did everything they could and still only shot three-for-16 from three-point range. Indiana got open looks, but the blatant lack of talent shooting the ball was always going to hold Indiana back.
The Hoosiers seemed to have answer for every Boilermaker run, until the very end. They had answer for everything until the final two minutes of the game, when it all came crumbling down and talent outweighed the hustle.
“It was just organization,” Miller said. “You can put it on me. The last two minutes, I probably should have gotten ourselves into a few timeout situations, where it could have helped out our team. Purdue is obviously tough to score on anyways. I could have had our guys more organized in the last couple minutes and call a timeout and make sure we get a shot. We didn’t do that, that killed us.”
It’s a tough status to be in, but with the unique scenario of a program simply looking to build for the future, all Indiana was left to do was to look for the positives. Archie Miller and the Indiana Hoosiers had to find positives from a game that never really gave them a chance.
“We competed. It’s big time. This is February. You’re playing against the best teams in your conference,” Miller said. “Without question, I thought we played extremely hard. I think you’re looking at a team that understands this type of competition level, what you have to do. I don’t think anybody left the arena tonight and said those guys didn’t bring it. I thought we played really, really hard today, so that’s the positive. Disappointing thing is it’s about winning.”