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'They out-toughed us': Indiana fights to the end, falls to Purdue in regular-season finale

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The stage was set for IU in West Lafayette. Given their recent struggles, the Hoosiers forced themselves to play with urgency in order to try and secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. A season sweep of Purdue may have been enough to punch that ticket.

After a battling down to the wire, Indiana ended its regular season with a 69-67 loss at No. 8 Purdue.

The environment? Only the most hostile they've played in all season. It was hard enough to hear yourself think, let alone communicate with teammates and coaches.

Early in the first half, that environment seemed to overwhelm Indiana. Playing like the team that only won one game in the month of February, IU fell behind by as many as 13.

Six early turnovers and opportunistic second-chance points put IU behind and left Purdue fans in a frenzy.

Postgame, Mike Woodson addressed the areas Indiana struggled in most.

"I thought they got all the 50-50 balls... when you're on the road you have to win the 50-50 balls," Woodson said. "They out-toughed us in that area."

'The head of the snake' as he's been called, Xavier Johnson, sparked a key run for IU before halftime. Trimming the deficit to just four sparked belief in the Hoosier locker room.

Indiana's guard play was the deciding factor in the Jan. 20 matchup, when Indiana bested Purdue in Bloomington. Johnson did his best to will IU to victory and make heroic plays down the stretch, ultimately coming up short on a last-second heave from half court as the final buzzer sound. Johnson finished with a game-high 18 points and career-high 12 assists.

Even in defeat, Indiana held Purdue to its lowest shooting percentage (39.7) all season. This defensive battle came down to Purdue being one run better in the final minutes. On Purdue's Senior Night, it was the longest tenured players who fittingly made winning plays in their final game at Mackey Arena.

In a season of close losses, Indiana played its in-state rival as hard as any opponent this season and Woodson expected nothing less.

"That's what you expect when you play Purdue," Woodson said. "The same thing happened at our place, but we were able to figure it out down the stretch to win it. This could have gone either way."

To no one's surprise, Woodson is right. This game was there for the taking, just as so many have been for Indiana this entire season.

There is a case to be made that if IU was able to remove a two-minute stretch of all its loses this year, IU might have one of the better resumes in college basketball. But after finishing the regular season 18-12, all focus shifts to the Big Ten tournament starting March 10.

Indiana will be the ninth seed in the conference tournament with a guaranteed matchup against either Michigan or Michigan State -- two teams that beat IU by a combined 33 points in the regular season.

The belief around the Hoosiers is a run of at least two wins in the Big Ten Tournament could secure them a spot in March Madness.

This will be no easy task for IU. In order to win two games in the tournament they'll have to beat two teams they have not beaten all season (Michigan or Michigan State and Wisconsin).

With IU desperately needing to capitalize on this opportunity, Woodson offered his final thoughts on a possible playoff push.

"I'm going to keep coaching and try to put them in the best position possible," Woodson said. "Eventually, I think they will come through."

Finally, when asked what it will take for IU to make it to the NCAA Tournament Woodson simply said...

"Only time will tell."

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