Indiana junior Victor Oladipo (4) struggled with foul trouble as the Hoosiers lost to Ohio State on Senior Night.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – Senior Night felt like Freshman Night for Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston, the three seniors on Tom Crean's Indiana University basketball team.
You know what that means: Not enough barbed-wire defense. Not enough rebounds. Not enough offensive flow. Too many turnovers. Not enough juice to defeat Ohio State.
They went on with the Senior Night ceremony after the Hoosiers were beaten by the Buckeyes, 67-58, Tuesday night in Assembly Hall. They didn't cancel it the way it was canceled at Louisville after the Cardinals lost their finale to South Florida last season.
In fact, the players even cut down the nets to celebrate the share of the Big Ten title that Indiana won after Michigan State and Wisconsin lost last Sunday. They handed out championship hats.
Surreal sight? Absolutely. So was the Big Ten title trophy presentation. Look for "Net-Cutting After a Loss," to reign as Talk Show Topic A across all the local and national platforms today.
The trophy was earned. The nets and hats? Pass. Not on this night. It seemed like a glass of flat champagne. There will be other chances to celebrate as the season unfolds.
"This is the epitome of bittersweet tonight as far as I can tell," Crean said. "These guys have worked to a point where they've earned it. They came in here and they looked at those banners every day. Now they're going to get a chance to hang one."
Elston told jokes and talked forever. Hulls expressed appreciation and more than a few tears. Watford blew kisses to the crowd and thanked them for their love.
But the ceremony didn't have the gusto it was certain to have if Indiana had handled Ohio State the way the Hoosiers handled the Buckeyes in Columbus last month. It didn't play out the way that Watford, Hulls and Elston wanted it to play out, not after the way they upgraded the IU program from Big Ten punching bag to Big Ten frontrunner over their four-year careers.
This is why: Indiana had an opportunity to deliver the school's first outright Big Ten championship in two decades. Instead the Hoosiers endured their second loss in three games – as well as their worst loss this season. They trailed by as many as 11 points for the only time all year. The Buckeyes were usually a step ahead.
On Senior Night. And Trophy Night.
"We just didn't do a good job of coming out with that edge that we needed to have to win the ball game," Hulls said. "We would have liked to have won our last game at Assembly Hall. So it's a little bittersweet."
Now Indiana must go to Ann Arbor and defeat Michigan Sunday if they don't want to share the title, probably with as many as three other teams, including Ohio State. Not impossible. Indiana has already won six times on the road in the Big Ten this season.
But also not easy. Michigan has not lost a home game.
Now these Indiana seniors will have to do it the way they've had to do it for all four seasons – the hard way. These are seniors who won four league games as freshmen and then only three as sophomores.
Now their hold on a Number One seed for the NCAA Tournament is hardly as firm as it was a week ago. Now they have to forget about losing a game they expected to win and discover a way to defeat Michigan for the second time.
They'll have to play better than they played against Ohio State. The Buckeyes made scoring difficult for Indiana. They made it very difficult around the rim. The Hoosiers made less than 40 percent of their field-goal attempts – and that was after scoring on their first seven possessions in the second half. Crean said they made it too easy for Ohio State to score after the dozen turnovers that the Hoosiers committed.
Ohio State junior DeShaun Thomas grew up in Fort Wayne. He had a large fan club tucked behind the Ohio State bench. They started celebrating early when Thomas went to work against Christian Watford – and they didn't stop. He led Ohio State with 18 points.
As good as Thomas was, Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft was better. Indiana fouled him out of the game when the Hoosiers won by 13 in Columbus.
Craft was only called for one foul Tuesday. He's a 40 percent shooter who shot the ball like Jordan Hulls, making seven of 10 shots, punishing Indiana with 15 points.
Craft made shots in traffic. He made shots while he was getting bumped. He made shots with a hand in his face. He made bank shots. He made floaters. He made his only free throw.
Indiana did not have an answer for that. Cody Zeller carried the Hoosiers with 17 points, but he only grabbed four rebounds. In fact, he only had one rebound with five minutes to play. That's not a winning formula in the Big Ten.
Zeller and Victor Oladipo had to sit with foul trouble over the last five minutes of the first half – and Ohio State used their absence to turn a three-point deficit into a three-point halftime lead.
Oladipo never seemed to find his mojo. He scored seven points and had more turnovers (four) than field goals (three). Writers from The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports were here to work on stories about Oladipo prior to the NCAA Tournament. He lost ground in the player of the year discussion.
And so it went. Ohio State seemed to follow the same script that Minnesota used to beat Indiana last week. Get physical with Indiana. Pound on them. Chase them everywhere.
"We're trying to celebrate what these guys have earned and at the same time we didn't earn it tonight," Crean said. "We just keep moving forward in a hurry."
Now Indiana will have to grab the outright Big Ten title the hard way, by doing it on the road at Michigan. The hard way is the way these Indiana seniors have done everything for four years.