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Three takeaways from Indiana men’s basketball’s 73-72 loss at Arkansas

Indiana forward Juwan Morgan finished with 15 points in the loss to Arkansas after playing just three minutes in the first half due to foul trouble (Mark Timko/HN)

In the first road game of the season for Indiana, the Hoosiers lost for the first time, in a 73-72 nail-biter at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks. The game was an uphill battle for the entirety of the game for Indiana after manhandling No. 24 Marquette 96-73 at home on Wednesday.

After being beat up on for most of the second half, the Hoosiers showed resilience and fought back to make it a close game down the stretch. In a back and forth battle throughout the final minutes, a struggling Rob Phinisee hit a clutch three from the wing to tie the game at 72.

Following, IU got a stop on defense forcing Arkansas to a baseline jumper and taking possession of the ball. With Head Coach Archie Miller refusing to call timeout, Indiana’s last possession was marred with missed opportunity.

Phinisee drove from the top of the key a little early and missed a contested layup, with an open Romeo Langford on the 3-point line. De’Ron Davis missed an easy tip-in and Arkansas got the board and earned a trip to the free throw line on a Davis foul call with 2.5 seconds left.

Arkansas’ Mason Jones hit the first and missed the second free throw, leaving Juwan Morgan to shoot a near impossible full-court shot to settle the game at 73-72. After the gut-wrenching loss for Indiana here are some takeaways.

Dealing with Daniel Gafford was a nightmare

Coming into the game it was known that dealing with Arkansas 6-foot-11, sophomore Daniel Gafford was going to be a challenge, but the Hoosiers really had no answer for him. Gafford set the tone of the game from the start, forcing Morgan to two fouls in under three minutes.

Morgan has history of playing big for his size and handling big men well, but Gafford was too much. The projected lottery pick played outstanding while protecting the rim and being a serious force on offense. Gafford finished with a career high 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting, along with 12 rebounds, two steals, and three blocks.

Gafford was too much size and athleticism for Morgan to handle, needing extra help every time Gafford got the ball in the post. That’s no knock-on Morgan though, no Hoosier could come close to slowing him.

Davis did the best, with his big build, but at the same time his limited minutes due to coming back from injury and overall stamina limited how much he could really help. Gafford, at the end of the day really got whatever he wanted.

How Indiana goes about dealing with other talented bigs in games to come is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Marques Bolden of Duke, Nick Ward of Michigan State, and Ethan Happ of Wisconsin are just a few of the talented post players Indiana will have to better prep for throughout the rest of the season.

A great learning experience in a tough environment

It may have been disheartening for Indiana to lose a game this early in the season, but this loss will help the Hoosiers a lot moving forward.

Playing in Bud Walton Arena is no joke, Indiana certainly looked a lot more uncomfortable playing away from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Arkansas is a different team at home and has now won 41 straight games when leading at half.

The intensity and atmosphere played a role in plenty of struggles for the team, especially early on. The communication and smooth ball movement wasn’t there that the team had seen in the previous games.

Handling Arkansas’ pressure was a serious struggle, with Phinisee off the floor for most of the game while in foul trouble, the constant backcourt of Al Durham, Langford, and Damezi Anderson could barely get the ball up the floor.

There were air ball threes and free throws along with lazy passes and poor shot selection. Indiana had a season high of 18 turnovers against the Razorbacks.

Indiana also had to work a lot harder for their baskets compared to Arkansas. The only had nine assists as a team compared to Arkansas’ 20.

Despite all the negatives, the positive may be hard to see, but playing a solid Arkansas team on the road is going to pay dividends down the road. Most high-profile teams don’t schedule real non-conference games on the road that aren’t part of a challenge or early season tournament.

Giving a relatively young Indiana team a test on the road early on was very smart of Coach Miller. It forced them to get out of the comfort of Assembly and will make future road games easier to adjust to.

Indiana’s next road game is at Cameron Indoor Stadium at No. 1 Duke on November 27, one of the craziest places to play in all of sports.

Now, imagine if that was Indiana’s first road test.

Injuries proved to make a difference but bright spots in Durham and Davis

In the second consecutive game without Race Thompson, Jerome Hunter, Devonte Green, and Zach McRoberts, Indiana’s offensive struggles showed.

Morgan and Langford had to carry the offensive load far more heavily than previous games. Their teammates struggled to provide a consistent offensive output to support them, especially guys who had been consistently reliable.

Justin Smith only had three points off one-of-six shooting and had been averaging double digits going into the game. First man off the bench and sharpshooting Evan Fitzner didn’t find the basket once after pouring in 16 against Marquette.

This lack of offensive support hurt the team tremendously and was very telling of the loss today. On the bright side, Davis played his best game of the season and Durham continued to be a spark and another option on offense in his second consecutive start.

Davis showed glimpses of his old self again, with a quiet 10 points on five-of-six shooting. He looked sharper and more composed on the offensive end than he had so far this season.

Durham came up big with 11 points and three assists, following a 13-point performance in the Marquette game. Nine of his 11 points came from the three-point line. All of them, proving to be very timely baskets and keeping Indiana in the game early on.

If these two can consistently provide support on offense, that’ll make the lives of Langford and Morgan as well as the offense as whole a lot easier throughout the rest of the season.

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