Bad habits are difficult to break for anyone, and especially so for Indiana basketball.
The Hoosiers’ same struggle of finishing close games down the stretch is beginning to sound like a broken record, but it is still just as true in Indiana’s 75-71 overtime home loss to No. 12 Illinois.
The number of close losses has added up and Indiana is now 9-8 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten entering the home stretch of the season.
“We’re not tough enough to finish games off,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “We’re not tough enough in little plays… the tough plays you got to make to win.”
What makes this particular loss tough for Indiana is that for most of the game, the little plays did go Indiana’s way. The Hoosiers got Illinois in plenty of foul trouble and put themselves in a position to win but simply couldn’t finish.
With 5:12 left in the game, Indiana was in a comfortable spot. IU was up 64-58 and in three consecutive defensive possessions, the Hoosiers lost it. Illinois’ Trent Frazier drew Indiana’s freshman guard Khristian Lander out of position defensively all three times.
Frazier proceeded to hit two 3-pointers and earn a trip to the free-throw line to get a 66-64 lead less than two minutes after Indiana had firm control of a low-scoring and sloppy game.
While the blame certainly doesn’t fall completely fall on Lander for the loss, those three possessions epitomized Indiana’s inability to clench opportunity and finish when the team needs to most.
“In this league, you have to not only have to play well, but you have to play super, super tough at the right times,” Miller said. “I do think we can play with anybody, we’re just having a hard time finishing things off.”
From the Frazier free throws to give Illinois the lead back at the 3:10 mark in the second half, Indiana’s offense faltered. IU scored only seven points for the remainder of the game, including the rest of the second half and all of overtime. On those seven points, IU made only two made baskets.
Indiana nearly went scoreless in overtime, too. The Hoosiers didn’t get their first points of overtime until a post hook from Race Thompson went in with seven seconds remaining of the extra period.
Illinois center Kofi Cockburn was dominant protecting the rim and making it difficult to operate in the paint, but Indiana could not take advantage of the depleted Illini. Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Adam Miller, and most notably junior star Ayo Dosunmu all fouled out late in the second half.
Additionally, Illinois freshman Andre Curbelo played through overtime with four fouls, making it difficult for him to play good defense without fear of fouling out, too.
Indiana found itself at the free-throw line 34 times but shot only 67.6% from there. The 11 misses of the 23-for-34 effort eventually caught up to the Hoosiers and served as another bad habit Indiana could not break.
Thompson had six of Indiana’s 12 misses at the line, but otherwise Thompson was Indiana’s best player with 18 points, eight rebounds, and three steals.
“Race played a hell of a game honestly,” Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “I know he wants a few of those free throws back, but he did a great job for us… he really kept us in the game.”
Jackson-Davis added 19 points and 14 rebounds to lead the way with Thompson but the contributions from the depth of the rotation was very scarce, playing another role in the loss.
Rob Phinisee’s glaring zero points was really problematic. The junior fouled out and did not have one rebound or assist, either.
In addition to Phinisee’s struggles, Jerome Hunter was withheld from playing due to a coach’s decision, forcing Indiana to have only nine available players.
“He (Hunter) has a chance to earn his way back on the floor,” Miller said of Hunter. “He’s not going to take the floor again until the coach feels he’s in the right frame of mind to, number one, lead himself the right way and, number two, has the bigger picture in mind in terms of protecting our team at all times.”