Juwan Morgan thought he had the position.
With the game tied and clock winding down, Purdue point guard Carsen Edwards faded away and released a shot from the elbow. He missed for the 20th time that night (4-24, 0-10 3PT), and Morgan moved to box-out 7-foot-3 Boilermaker center Matt Haarms.
Except Haarms had six inches on the 6-foot-8 Morgan. Indiana’s senior forward completed his box-out and jumped with two hands for the ball. He came down with nothing but air.
Instead, Haarms’ left hand was extended just beyond the reach of Morgan. He banked in the tip-in, and subsequent game-winner, to give No. 15 Purdue the season sweep of Indiana — 48-46 on Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
“A hundred percent I think I had position,” Morgan said postgame.
Upon further review, Morgan is correct. There really was not much he could have done differently on the play — besides utilizing the foul that Indiana had to give. Tuesday night was a lot of things, starting with a hideous display of offense, as both teams combined to shoot 29.6 percent from the floor. The Hoosiers shot 7-of-26 in the paint, accumulated 17 turnovers, and were again brutal from 3-point distance (5-of-25).
But Indiana was a different team Tuesday against Purdue than the one that lost to Minnesota by 21 days prior, or by 15 at home to Nebraska a month ago. No, not offensively, nor at the free-throw line, or in the late-game department either. The Hoosiers played with a different mindset, according to their coach, and it showed. Purdue is a top-five team in KenPom offensive efficiency, yet Indiana made the Boilermakers look like they were running offensive sets for the first time. There are few statistics, or even individual plays, to back this up — as Morgan finished 3-of-14 from the floor and turned the ball over with a one-point lead and a minute to play.
Archie Miller said postgame that he has been unhappy with his team’s mindset since that Nebraska game on January 14th. He saw his team’s confidence ‘shook’ against the Huskers, and continue to plummet until Tuesday’s effort against Purdue. Indiana had legitimate swagger — from getting into the head of Haarms, to crossing up Edwards, and an ill Romeo Langford forcing fouls at will.
“I just thought in general we had to drastically change our attitude,” Miller said. “The way we think about things right now, how we approach our team concept, how we approach our practices, and I thought talking it out and having our team speak was a big thing, and those guys obviously looked at one another and said, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. And I think that is the change that has to stay, because clearly we played a very good team tonight in front of obviously an amazing environment.”
It’s quite possible that Indiana’s ‘max-effort’ shown Tuesday was the result of a rivalry that players dream of competing in. It’s quite possible that Indiana is unable to replicate this sort of inspiring effort at Iowa on Friday night — especially against a Hawkeye team suffering from a home defeat to Maryland on Tuesday.
Miller acknowledged that the ‘sting’ from this loss is in his locker room. The Hoosiers, as ugly as it was, played hard enough to escape with a victory. Miller hopes the “disposition and mentality has to stay with what we were at tonight.”
“A lot of different guys just feel that letdown, and it just kind of weighs on you.” Miller said. “I thought tonight, we took that out. We took sort of the air out of that one and played to win, competed, and that’s the biggest thing we have to focus on moving forward is continuing to keep sort of what we had going here tonight, but more so what we had going on in practice and whatnot. If we can keep that going, we’ll continue to play in games like this.”
The Hoosiers started their season at 12-2, and did so with a miraculous four-game stretch that included quality opponents and narrowly close victories. The tide turned fast, as Indiana has gone 1-11 since. They are .500, 4-10 in the Big Ten, and bound for a first-round test in the conference tournament. Five games remain and Indiana may only be favored in one of them. Morgan, the clear leader of this team, still believes IU has its season in front of them. If the Hoosiers play with Tuesday’s tough mentality, they’ll at least be giving themselves a fighting chance in each remaining game.
“I think it’s a change in mentality, just that we have no choice but to maintain,” Morgan said. “These last few games we still have a chance. Everything we want is still in front of us, and I’m proud of how the guys fought today. A couple shots here, a couple shots there, and it’s a different ballgame.”