After a nearly two-week holiday break, the No. 15 Indiana Hoosiers got off to their best start of the season and subsequently suffered a catastrophic collapse thanks to their worst finish in any game so far this year.
IU fell to the Hawkeyes 91-89 in a conference barnburner inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. With students not yet back on campus the atmosphere in Iowa City was subdued, but even if the opposing crowd had been at full strength, the Hoosiers would have kept them quiet with their torrid start on Thursday night.
Jumping out to 21-point lead at 28-7, IU looked like the talented and well-rested team we expected to see entering conference play full-time.
Early on, Iowa was no match for IU when guarding them man-to-man. Freshman point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino played his first road conference game of his career and was clearly the best player on the court for the first six minutes of action. Hood-Schifino became not only an aggressive shooter but an aggressive passer, making reads on plays that would make Xavier Johnson blush.
Hood-Schifino came to play and teamed up with Trayce Jackson-Davis to build IU's early lead and show the Big Ten that the Hoosiers still have a point guard with supreme playmaking ability. Hood-Schifino finished with 21 points, nine assists and a career-high five made 3-pointers.
Head coach Mike Woodson was on Don Fischer's radio show postgame and shared his thoughts on the young point guard's game.
"He played great," Woodson told Fischer. "He's been playing well. We need that to continue. We have to get help from some other guys."
While Hood-Schifino starred early, All-American forward Trayce Jackson Davis was on from the first possession. We learned that Jackson-Davis had been sidelined the past two games due to a back issue and he was clearly playing through pain Thursday night. It had to be the most painful 30 points and nine rebounds Jackson-Davis has had to score but he made it look like a walk in the park.
What should concern Indiana is the frequency with which Jackson-Davis grimaced and grabbed for his back throughout the night.
Woodson mentioned the health of Jackson-Davis to Fischer postgame as well.
"The key is how he feels tomorrow," Woodson said. "I wanted to take him out. He fought me on that. He wanted to stay in. I get it. This is a game we had a chance to win and just didn't get it done."
What certainly didn't get it done was IU's defense in the second half. With the team looking lost on that end for the entire half with late rotations and careless fouls mixed in, Iowa gladly seized the opportunity to have its third largest comeback win in program history.
Another brutal road loss in conference that it felt like IU had to have, given its recent performances against good teams.
What Indiana does not have is health and/or the time to get healthy. That time has passed and now playing in arguably the toughest conference in the sport, it will have quality opponents coming at them fast and hard.
Race Thompson was ruled out late in the first half after suffering a knee injury on a play that looked like it was straight out of the NFL. A Hawkeye player dove for a loose ball, colliding with Thompson's knee which buckled as he was rolled up on. Tears streamed down his face as IU lost another one of its senior leaders in the span of four games for what is presumed to be an indefinite amount of time.
This seems to be a bigger loss for the team at the moment because of the lack of production coming from IU's backup forwards. Sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo contributed nine points and five rebounds but continuously makes mistakes that don't allow the coaching staff to trust him to play extended minutes or late in the game.
As for freshman forward Malik Reneau, his drop off has left the Indiana fan base in shock. After showing a seemingly unlimited amount of offensive potential, Reneau has struggled with traveling, indecisiveness and an overall lack of confidence. Reneau is in place to be the starter while Thompson remains out, but we have yet to see Reneau look like his early-season self in quite some time. The clock is ticking for the young big man to fill the void of one of Indiana's most beloved players in recent memory.
Late-game execution has plagued this IU team far too much over the past two seasons. With Thursday night being the most recent rude awakening for Indiana, its execution in crunch time on both ends of the floor have not met the standards of a Big Ten contender yet.
With no more breaks for Indiana, it's another quick turnaround as the frisky Northwestern Wildcats roll into Bloomington for a Sunday matinee inside Assembly Hall. Come Sunday, we will learn how this particular Indiana team responds to a crushing loss and how it will fill the void of one of its frontcourt leaders.