For much of the second half in Indiana’s home contest with Arkansas, the game looked to follow the same storyline of the Hoosiers’ past few matchups: a tight game that came about after the Hoosiers lost a sizable lead in the second half.
The difference Sunday was that rather than Indiana sealing the deal in close fashion, usual struggles were too much for the Hoosiers to overcome and they lost to Arkansas 71-64. The loss marks their first at home and leaves Indiana with an 11-2 record at the end of the nonconference slate.
“Our offense kind of leaves us, our defense kind of caves in a little bit transition-wise, or off some runs, we give them some 3s, and next thing you’re in a hole,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “We were in a similar hole a week ago, came through, tonight we didn’t.”
In both of Indiana’s past two games against Nebraska and Notre Dame, Indiana was leading at halftime and built up a seemingly safe lead through the second half, only to see it quickly evaporate and the game go down to the wire.
Against Nebraska, a 6-7 team, Indiana was leading for almost the entirety of the second half and was up eight with 4:19 to go in the game, only to lose control of the game and need overtime to close it out.
Indiana was up by as much as 17 early in the second half in the Crossroads Classic against Notre Dame and also led by double digits until 9:46 left in the game. The Fighting Irish flipped the script and made it a nail-biter with a lead change at five minutes to go. Their comeback was only thwarted due to a few clutch plays and the eventual game-winning 3 from Armaan Franklin with 15 seconds remaining.
The bottom line is that Indiana struggles to close teams out in the second half. The only game against high-major competition in which the Hoosiers have shown to be capable of doing so was in the Florida State win, which has been the anomaly of the season for a number of reasons.
The Hoosiers’ inability to close teams out caught up to them against Arkansas, another game where they had a real opportunity to take care of business early on.
At the under-16 media timeout in the second half, Indiana led 52-42 and was leading by nine with a little over eight minutes to go. From there Indiana went cold. Arkansas went on a 19-3 run in the last 8:08 of the game and took the lead with 2:50 to go. From there, there was no looking back from the Razorbacks.
This second-half collapse was due to a number of typical issues the Hoosiers face like poor free-throw shooting and bad perimeter defense while turnovers and poor ball movement added to the struggle.
Indiana shot a measly 9-for-18 from the free-throw line and saw the season average dip to 69.1 percent. A few of those misses were key ones that came down the stretch when Indiana needed them most.
“It’s definitely something that you have to pay attention to because I think it’s a very important piece to this team, making free throws,” Miller said. “Free throws can extend leads. Free throws can stop runs. Tonight, wasn’t our night from the line.”
Perimeter defense, a consistent problem for Indiana, was a problem yet again Sunday. It’s become normal for teams that aren’t great at shooting from 3 to have their best day against Indiana.
Arkansas buried 12 shots from deep and made 38 percent of their total looks while coming into the game with a season average of only 29.7 percent from beyond the arc.
“To us, our defense is the thing that you can control,” Miller said. “You’ve got to play with great emotion and great toughness. I think in general we had a few guys out there tonight at times that were letting things bother them, and we weren’t dialed in.”
Similar to the Arkansas result, Nebraska and Portland State torched Indiana from deep. Nebraska made 37.5 percent of their 3s against IU while having a season average of about 34 percent. Portland State was 8-for-16 against the Hoosiers from deep.
Losing Al Durham to ejection in the first half because of his assessed flagrant-two foul for an elbow could have played a big role in another tough outing when guarding the perimeter. It left Indiana’s guard depth short-handed, with only three scholarship players in the backcourt of Franklin, Devonte Green and Rob Phinisee.
The lack of backcourt depth played a role in Indiana’s 14 turnovers and lack of ball movement too. The second half rarely saw the ball go down low for post looks for Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk.
Jackson-Davis was guarded tightly after halftime, but he was extremely dominant in the first and playing through him is what gave Indiana their original advantage. The freshman forward had 16 of his team-high 20 points in the first half.
The Hoosiers will have to forget this loss quickly, because it does not get any easier from here on out. The gauntlet of Big Ten play for the remainder of the season awaits Indiana.
They missed a great opportunity to add a resume-building win in Arkansas, but the Hoosiers will have an even better chance to do that and bounce back on Saturday when Indiana will travel to take on No. 13 Maryland.