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Photo by Ryan Lo.
Photo by Ryan Lo.

Missed free throws, double-digit deficit sink Indiana men's basketball in loss to Northwestern

The Hoosiers held Northwestern guard Boo Buie in check but Princeton transfer Ryan Langborg scored a game-high 26 points.

With around eight minutes left against Northwestern, the Hoosiers had the chance to cut the Wildcats's lead to single digits. Center Kel’el Ware went to the line to shoot two free throws. Neither shot found the net. Moments later, guard Anthony Leal drew a foul to put Indiana in the bonus. Leal went to the line for the one-and-one, but his first attempt went right off the rim, straight into Northwestern guard Brooks Barnhizer’s hands.

Those were three of Indiana's nine missed free throws, which were one of several deciding factors Northwestern's 76-72 win over Indiana. It was Indiana’s fourth loss at home this season.

After that string of missed free throws, Indiana made an 11-0 run to cut the deficit to five points in the closing minutes. However, it wasn't enough.

“We shoot a lot of free throws in practice because the coaches and we obviously see that that’s something that we can get better at,” freshman guard Gabe Cupps said postgame. “I think it just all comes down to confidence and just the mentality approaching the line with. I think it’s much more mental than physical. We get the reps in all week and have been throughout the season, we just got to step up and knock them down with confidence.”  

Knocking shots down with confidence was a visible weakness for the Hoosiers on Sunday afternoon. 

In the first half alone, Indiana shot 2-of-8 from beyond the arc, with many wide-open shots. The Hoosiers finished 6-of-18 from three, with Mackenzie Mgbako making two 3-pointers in the final 50 seconds of the game. 

“You got to make shots. We had some good looks and we just didn’t knock them down,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “We moved the ball well enough to get open shots. You got to step up and make them. It’s that simple.” 

A key for Indiana heading into Sunday afternoon’s matchup was containing one of the top point guards in the country, Boo Buie. 

Indiana held Buie to only four points in the first half with all coming in the form of free throws. He was 0-for-4 shooting in the first half as senior guard Trey Galloway served as the primary defender. Indiana’s defensive game plan was in motion.

Despite Northwestern’s best player being unable to find any rhythm offensively, the Wildcats led at halftime 34-26. 

Buie finally made his first triple of the night with eight and a half minutes left in the game.

“[Buie is] tough to defend no matter what night it is,” Cupps said. “I’ve always taken pride on the defensive side of the ball. At the end of the day, [we] didn’t do enough. He’s a great player, just got to do the best I can.” 

Buie finished with 14 points on 3-of-14 shooting, while Princeton transfer Ryan Langborg stepped up in his place, scoring 26 points. Langborg shot 4-for-7 from beyond the arc with six assists. Langborg also finished 8-for-8 from the free throw line as he shut the door on Indiana’s chances of a last-minute comeback.

Down 63-49, the Hoosiers picked up momentum in a crucial moment in the game. In the final six minutes of play, Indiana scored 25 points, with many from Ware. The Hoosiers’s valiant, last-minute efforts weren't enough, however, as the Wildcats went 9-for-12 from the free throw line in the final minute of the game.

Northwestern finished 22-for-28 at the free throw line compared to Indiana's 12-for-21 performance.

“It’s always good to come out [in the] beginning of the game with energy,” Ware said. “I feel like we lacked it a little bit, but we dug ourselves [in] too deep of a hole in the second half to come back, which we tried to do.” 

The Hoosiers fell to 14-11 overall and 6-8 in the conference. Woodson has yet to defeat Northwestern in his tenure at Indiana as the Hoosiers are 0-4 against the Wildcats in the last three seasons.

Indiana has six games left in the regular season. It will next host Nebraska on Wednesday for an 8:30 p.m. ET tip in Assembly Hall.

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