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‘We need to regroup’: Indiana falls flat defensively in let-down loss to Michigan

In the later stages of the second half Sunday, Indiana was threatening to make a run at Michigan. After a defensive stop, IU guard Xavier Johnson received a pass in the backcourt. Michigan’s Moussa Diabate sprinted out of nowhere to poke the ball loose. DeVante Jones jumped on top of Johnson to cradle the ball. Jump ball, Michigan ball. Any hope of a late IU run was squandered.

It was representative of one team that was desperate to win and the other still drinking in the spirits of what appeared to be a program-altering victory on Thursday over No. 4 Purdue.

On Sunday afternoon in Assembly Hall, Michigan — which was 8-7 coming into Sunday’s game — won all the loose balls, hit the tough contested shots that IU routinely missed, and stayed remarkably poised in front of a rowdy 17,222 fans. Michigan 80, Indiana 62. It was the first time in 13 tries an opponent had left Assembly Hall this season victorious.

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A sign of a team not fully engaged starts on the defensive end. Eighty was the second most points IU has given up this season in a regulation game (after 83 points in a turnover fiasco in Iowa City). On Sunday it was just plainly a lack of focus to detail, execution and effort in Indiana’s first double-digit loss of the season, head coach Mike Woodson said.

“Tonight our defense just wasn’t there,” Woodson said. “We were a step behind our rotations, they had their way. That’s pretty sad after having a big game against Purdue.”

Hunter Dickinson was the dominant factor behind the Wolverines victory with 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting including 3-for-4 from downtown. The Hoosiers’ defense has been the core of their identity and that starts with their post defense. But Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis had no answer for the All-American center.

“We were supposed to wait for him to start dribbling the ball but he was holding it,” Jackson-Davis said. “That’s on us. We made the mistake and he made us pay for it.”

Called “crabbing,” Dickinson used the hesitation dribble to survey the floor and see IU double teams coming. IU never adjusted and the extra time brought by the crabbing allowed him to go around the double team, kick the ball back out to the open shooter or even take a 3 himself. It led to all sorts of issues for IU’s defense.

“Obviously with Hunter [Dickinson] shooting the ball like that and then our guards getting drilled on screens, we were supposed to switch or veer if they died on the ball screen,” Jackson-Davis said. “That’s just something we’re going to have to watch on film and then go back over.”

Essentially IU was anticipating the pick and rolls off screens only for Michigan to pick and pop, going off screens for open 3s. Michigan finished 11-for-17 from 3 for an astronomical 65 percent from behind the arc.

Offensively IU’s problems were nothing new. The Hoosiers’ half court offense, which also struggled for long stretches against Purdue on Thursday, continues to be a major problem. IU finished with just 36 points in its half court offense, unable to deal with the Wolverines’ speed. The Hoosiers’ biggest problem was not stretching the floor as IU finished just 5-for-19 from behind the arc. Three of those 3s were from Parker Stewart late in the second half when the game was effectively over.

“We had so much pressure coming at us,” Woodson said. “They made us miss shots.”

Inconsistency stems from how IU starts halves. While the Hoosiers have used the same starting five most of the season, the past two games, the team — especially offensively — looks lethargic.

“Our starting five, we need to regroup, we need to figure it out. It’s unacceptable honestly,” Jackson-Davis said. “No emotion, no drive. Our starting five is our starting five for a reason.”

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Big picture, Indiana has rotation questions to answer, along with an offense that over relies on fast breaks and getting to the free-throw line. But maybe most importantly, Sunday afternoon’s let-down loss reminded Hoosier fans what the program has been for the last 10-15 years: Inconsistent. Enough talent to beat almost anyone in the country but not able to fully harness that talent and energy every day. The words “Indiana is back” hang over Hoosier fans’ lips after every big win. But the program’s culture has been to disappoint after apparent statement victories.

Nothing on Sunday took away from the victory over Purdue and what it meant and proved about the program. It should not realistically be expected that in one season Mike Woodson is going to eliminate the inconsistent demons that have haunted the hallways of Assembly Hall for years. Sunday did help show the contrasting culture of one of the best Big Ten basketball teams in the past decade in Michigan compared to IU. For now IU’s culture still reverts to failing to play with energy and execution on too many nights.

“We haven’t had very many big wins here,” Woodson said. “I think when you experience some success and it’s new to us we are still learning as a team how to win, that’s why we are in the position we are in.”

IU will have another learning experience Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. against Penn State, a team IU already lost to with a lack of energy in State College, closing out a three-game homestand at Assembly Hall. The up-and-down ride will continue as IU basketball looks toward another February right on the bubble.

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