Slow starts. Scoring droughts. Lack of veteran presence.
All the usual plagues for Indiana’s troubles this season were alive and healthy in the Hoosiers’ 74-67 home loss to Northwestern on Wednesday night. The conference-opening loss immediately puts Indiana in the hole, starting 0-1 in the Big Ten, and 5-3 overall.
“Today I thought we stunk on both ends of the floor,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said.
Like the Butler game, it was a tale of two halves for Indiana. The first half included a sluggish start and Indiana struggling to score against the zone, which resulted in a nine-point deficit at halftime. The second half was a lot crisper for Indiana, playing with much better energy and having a brief lead around the nine-minute mark before Northwestern took control for the rest of the way.
Overall, it was a lack of complete performance that tanked Indiana’s chances to beat Northwestern. Trayce Jackson-Davis was great as always, leading with 22 points and nine rebounds, and Armaan Franklin and Race Thompson chipped in 16 and 11 points, respectively.
Freshman Trey Galloway did have two timely 3-pointers that were big for Indiana’s momentum, but other than the usual contributors, Indiana didn’t get much production from anyone else.
Without better, balanced offensive contributions from the whole team, Indiana sunk into those three consistent struggles: slow starts, scoring droughts and no veteran presence.
It’s become normal for Indiana to start out slow and come alive in the second half to skate by for the game. This was evident against North Alabama and Butler and it looked like the same thing could have happened against Northwestern.
“I thought we were ready to play in warm-ups,” Jackson-Davis said. “We were amped up. On the defensive end we let them get some easy buckets. I thought overall in the second half we regrouped and played hard but obviously that run by them at the end got us.”
Indiana flirted with taking control of the game at the nine-minute mark of the second half when they were outscoring Northwestern 23-13 in the second period, but the Wildcats took an eight-point lead with 5:32 in the second half and never looked back.
Indiana did make a good effort to climb back in the game and keep it close, but Northwestern’s Chase Audige could not miss down the stretch, accounting for the team’s final nine points in the game.
Northwestern going on that tear of a run ended Indiana’s chances of making it a third straight game of a second half turnaround to win.
It should serve as a wake-up call that Indiana can’t expect to win Big Ten games when starting so poorly.
Much like the slow starts, the scoring droughts from Indiana have become all too common over the course of this season and in years past.
The slow starts and scoring droughts are usually intertwined and that was the case in the first half.
“Didn’t handle the zone at all in the first half,” Miller said of Indiana’s inability to score early.
Northwestern’s zone gave so much issue to Indiana’s offense that they endured two sustained scoring droughts in the first period.
The 13:10 to 10:58 mark and the 10:58 to 7:00 stretch saw Indiana score a combined zero points. There was only one basket in between these two scoreless stretches, a 3-pointer from freshman Khristian Lander.
It was roughly six minutes of no scoring for Indiana. In that time, Northwestern built its lead to as large as 14.
Indiana fell victim of a second half drought, too. This one was crucial, as it was the stretch that gave Northwestern command of the game.
Following a pair of Thompson free throws at 8:56, Northwestern went on a 12-0 run until the 4:49 mark.
In both situations, Indiana’s offense fell asleep for an extended period of time and Northwestern took hold of the game and forced Indiana to play from behind, panic and ultimately lose.
Lack of veteran presence
In conjunction with the scoring droughts and the slow starts, a lot of that falls on the team’s two most experienced players in Al Durham and Rob Phinisee.
The upperclassmen guards have been some of Indiana’s most reliable pieces over the past few seasons. On Wednesday night, and for much of the early portion of the season, that was not the case.
Durham and Phinisee combined for six points on 1-for-9 shooting from the field.
“We’re going to need them to be better,” Miller said of Durham and Phinisee. “We have to get them straightened out a little bit.”
The two guards were expected to be the top leading scorers behind Jackson-Davis this season and both have proven to be capable of being that type of player, but it isn’t showing every game.
That is a very legitimate problem for Indiana moving forward. It has become too common for Jackson-Davis and Franklin to lead, Thompson to support, and then looking to see if anyone else can step up and provide in the scoring effort.
If Indiana is truly going to make the tournament and be a higher-level team, the Hoosiers are going to need more from Durham and Phinisee.