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What We Learned: Indiana’s 89-65 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Before Indiana Sports Information Director J.D. Campbell could finish making his customary request for Archie Miller to make an opening statement on his team’s loss to Michigan, Indiana’s head coach began.

“It’s not that you lose, it’s how you lose,” he said. “It’s very disappointing at this stage of the season in particular, coming off a really hard-played game for our team on Thursday.”

That sentiment actually summed up the story from Crisler Center on Sunday pretty well. After a dreadful first half in which Indiana was outrebounded 16-11, IU was still somehow down by just seven. It was indicative of the same story that has haunted IU in basically all of its bad losses to date: playing well enough to stay close and keep a game within reach, but rarely competing to the group’s full potential, exercising this team’s ability to take over and control a game.

Here’s what we learned in Indiana’s 89-65 loss to the Wolverines.

Indiana’s star was due for a tough game. Nobody else could answer the call.

Early on in the second half of Indiana’s Sunday tilt with Michigan, freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis stormed into the lane and converted one of his signature layups. It was his first bucket of the day. And there were just 16 minutes left to play.

It was an uncharacteristic and rapid deterioration for the four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, who had reached double figures in six of his past seven games.

We’ve often seen his defense translate to offense, and vice versa. On Sunday, the struggle on both ends of the floor was clear. Indiana had no answer for anything Michigan did with the basketball, most noticeably early on in the game on the interior. From there, it was clear that Jackson-Davis and Indiana’s other bigs couldn’t dig themselves out of it, setting a poor precedent for the rest of the day.

In a world where Joey Brunk has 10 shots before Jackson-Davis has two, for a team that seems to be successful only when a set number of things go its way, Indiana’s play generally is going to go downhill fast. It did.

“Today wasn’t his best day,” Miller said. “We have to find a way to bring Trayce with us on the road here eventually. We have to find a way to have one of our best players help the cause. He’ll do it, he’ll be fine.”

Sure, he’ll be fine. He was one of the best high school players in the country. But there’s a bigger issue at play. Is there anyone else ready to step up when Indiana’s star freshman can’t? For the moment, the answer is uncertain.

Does Indiana believe?

The first words out of Archie Miller’s mouth following IU’s win over Iowa were that his group won because they were “mentally right.” For the opposite reason, Indiana suffered another road loss on Sunday.

It’s no secret that Indiana is almost a different team altogether when playing away from Bloomington this season. Whether it’s a level of discomfort or lack of communication, if Indiana wants to find a way into the NCAA Tournament, it obviously will need to change fast.

“When you go on the road, you’re all you’ve got,” Miller said. “You have to find a way to be good at what you do. You believe in what you do. When that belief goes away, you can see it right away.”

More often than not, Indiana has looked like a tough, competitive and cohesive unit at home. On the road, there’s a noticeable and drastic drop-off, and on Sunday, IU again looked incredibly disinterested in playing high-level Big Ten basketball. What’s most frustrating at times is that while IU didn’t have a great day offensively, Indiana (almost) shot the ball well enough to stay in it until the end.

The difference maker, yet again, was the level of physicality, or lack thereof. Indiana was outrebounded 37-21, and surrendered numerous free points to Michigan either through breakdowns in coverage or at the free-throw line, where the Wolverines finished 18-for-22.

“We’re going to have to take a group that does a better job in the next few days preparing for Minnesota,” Miller said. “Or it’ll be the same thing.”

“We need to have more than one”

For one reason or the next, when one guy in Indiana’s rotation begins to click, the next guy can’t. Besides Al Durham, who pitched in 17 points, De’Ron Davis was Indiana’s lone bright spot, reaching a new career high of 18 points, going a perfect 9-for-9 from the field.

How does IU make a change? The answer might not be totally different from that regarding IU’s lack of togetherness on the floor. In the past, we’ve seen how one player’s success effectively inspires the rest of the group to do the same. This season, it feels at times rather disjointed. Indiana was unsuccessful in feeding off Davis’ hot day, unable to string buckets together and produce momentum.

It’s not an issue exclusive to Sunday’s game, and it’s been partially covered up in the past thanks to wildly hot performances from a few select shooters.

“We need to have more than one guy be able to be effective,” Miller said. “When we’re effective, we have nine or 10 guys effectively playing together.”

Indiana made steps forward with Thursday night’s exceptional performance in Bloomington. Exceptional performances on the road will need to be the next step in the progression, and in case it wasn’t already clear, that’s easier said than done.

Connor Hines

I am a sophomore from San Diego, California studying in Indiana University's Media School. Beyond my work with The Hoosier Network, I'm a broadcaster for WIUX 99.1 FM, IU's student radio station, and BTN Student U. I previously served as beat reporter for Indiana Softball during my freshman year, and I look forward to continue to deliver fresh and innovative content with softball and much more during this year. Last summer, I interned with San Diego's Mighty 1090, the flagship AM sports radio station in my hometown. Tweet me your hot takes @ConnorHines17. Email: cohines@iu.edu

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