The progress was evident, the play was impressive, but the finish wasn’t quite there for Indiana’s 77-76 home loss to No. 17 Maryland on Sunday afternoon.
The now 15-5 Hoosiers let their once tight grip of the game slip away in a matter of a few minutes down the stretch. The biggest Indiana lead was eight and with 2:37 to go in the game, it was seven.
With a minute to go, it was a four-point game before Aaron Wiggins knocked down a three with 55 seconds left to cut IU's lead to one. A mismatch in the post then allowed Jalen Smith to score an easy layup over Justin Smith to give the Terrapins the lead with 14.5 seconds to go.
Indiana’s last possession took a while to get going before Trayce Jackson-Davis narrowly missed an open close-range look to seal the deal.
“It was a pretty point-blank good look,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “It didn't obviously go down, but that's the way it breaks.”
Just like that, an opportunity to get a second consecutive win over a ranked opponent and fourth of the season was gone.
As much of a resume and confidence boost as a win could have been for Indiana, there is still plenty of reason for optimism for the Hoosiers. Plenty of growth was on display throughout the afternoon.
“A lot of learning can go on in that,” Miller said. “When our offense plays the way it did tonight in the sharing of the ball, the ball movement, to score 76 points and have 22 assists and only six turnovers at home and lose, it's a little bit befuddling.”
That was a lot.
More positives than not? How does IU quickly respond?@ConnorHines17 and @AustinRender sum up what was a heartbreaking loss, but also a crucial learning lesson at this point in the year for Indiana. #iubb pic.twitter.com/ahVipdTrTa
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 26, 2020
For the first time all season, it looks to be Indiana has established consistency while playing really solid basketball. Sunday's contest, along with the Nebraska and Michigan State games, has shown Indiana, and particularly its offense at its best.
Just by comparison to the first Maryland game, where Indiana had its doors blown off, it’s a totally different looking team.
On Sunday, the Hoosiers shot the bell unusually well from the outside, tying a season-high nine made 3-pointers (9-for-19) and their assist-to-turnover differential was excellent. They put up 22 assists and six turnovers on the day.
Back on Jan. 4, at Maryland, the Hoosiers were 4-for-18 from the 3-point line and accounted for seven total assists to 14 turnovers. The difference between the two matchups was quite evident, which showed Indiana’s preparation to fix past mistakes, not only Sunday but throughout the games that have followed.
The adjustments made from the first half to the second Sunday were arguably just as impressive. Going into halftime, Maryland led Indiana 45-36 and had totally dominated the Hoosiers to that point. They had converted nine of their 17 3-point attempts and were shooting 54.8 percent from the field overall.
The second half was a different story with Indiana’s defense tightening up and Maryland only making three of their 12 3-point looks and shooting 40 percent overall. Indiana’s offense also erupted in the second, outscoring Maryland 40-32. The second half difference was reminiscent of Indiana’s evident growth over the past few games.
In addition to the offense as a whole, redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter had his best game of the season, finishing with 13 points and three 3-pointers. His confidence and reliability off the bench have grown tremendously as of late. He’s proven himself as a defender as well.
“Now he's playing, and he's playing more and more, which is a big thing for our team,” Miller said of Hunter. “He's added value in a lot of ways. He's doing a better job defensively. He ends up getting double figures here tonight but made three big shots, but that's what he can do. He can add some offensive firepower.”
The remaining schedule’s difficulty isn’t letting up an inch for the upcoming week as Indiana will travel for road contests at Penn State on Wednesday and Ohio State on Saturday.
Regardless of the upcoming road tests’ difficulty, it will be a good gauge to see if Indiana can continue the growth and newfound offensive consistency it has shown.