Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says Indiana can still be a good team but needs its upperclassmen to deliver.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – The march toward the Assembly Hall exits began with about 4:27 to play and Michigan State putting Indiana into a 16-point sleeper-hold.
Too many wasted Indiana possessions. Too many three-point Michigan State field goals. Too little reason to believe the Hoosiers could carve into the deficit.
Could they salvage this game? No, mark down this 73-56 defeat as Indiana's largest homecourt loss since Cody Zeller was a senior at Washington High School.
Next question: Can the Hoosiers salvage a competitive position in the middle of the Big Ten now that they have lost their first two conference games and face unbeaten Wisconsin the next time they return to Assembly Hall Jan. 14?
"Sure," one veteran observer of college basketball said. "I think they still have a chance to be pretty good. I really do."
Who was the observer?
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
His kind words were not all covered in powdered sugar and wrapped in bow ties for his pal, IU coach Tom Crean. Izzo sees what many see when they look at the 10-5 Hoosiers:
A team drained by too many turnovers (15 more Saturday). A team that needs more practice, practice, practice getting the ball to its inside scorers. A team relying on a string of freshmen who have no legitimate understanding that in Big Ten play everything tilts toward veterans who grasp they must maximize what they do well and stop messing around with things they do poorly.
"Every team is different," Izzo said. "This is where (senior Will) Sheehey and Yogi (Ferrell, the sophomore point guard) gotta be men. They've got to stand up.
"Tom (Crean, the IU coach) has been through it. He's rebuilt programs. He's done it. He knows what it's like. He'll be fine. But with those young freshmen, that's where your upperclassmen really have to stand up and explain how it is and understand how it is."
Sheehey was solid, probably Indiana's best player. He scored 13 points and limited Adreiane Payne, Michigan State's best player, to four points. Do not bother checking Sheehey's rebound totals. He didn't have any. Or assists. He had one.
Ferrell was OK. He scored 17, but five turnovers and two assists is rarely a winning line for a point guard. It was not an acceptable line on Saturday. It was also the second consecutive game, and fifth this season, that Ferrell had more turnovers than assists.
Think about this sequence, because Crean certainly did: With 2:56 left in the first half, IU cut Michigan State's lead to 25-24. The Spartans scored the final eight points of the half. Although the Spartans put Indiana in the double bonus with 3:43 to play, IU didn't shoot another free throw before halftime after that foul.
"They (the Spartans) understand how to win and things that hurt us today, especially in the first half, and we've got to grow out of this because it's getting me downright angry with it," Crean said.
Crean used 11 guys and eight scored five points or less. Noah Vonleh, Indiana's mammoth freshman center, should take at least eight shots every game. Ten is actually a more reasonable number. Vonleh had four shots and two free throws. That translates to five field-goal attempts, and serves as confirmation that Michigan State's defense scrubbed Vonleh out of the game – just as the Spartans pitched a shutout against IU guard Evan Gordon, who averages nearly eight points per game.
A veteran Spartans' squad that Crean says can win a national title schooling a team that relies on four freshmen? You bet. But freshmen with winning talent have to figure it out – and upperclassmen have to help them. IU visits Penn State next Saturday, trying to avoid an 0-3 league start.
"Vonleh is now going to learn a little bit that conference play is a little bit different than non-conference play," Izzo said. "You can take more things away. We're going to pack it in. We're going to stay off people."
Or stay ON people. Gordon never had an inch to set his feet and fire. He managed one field-goal attempt in 14 minutes.
"We knew we were going to have our toes on his toes when he caught it," Izzo said.
"The scouting really improves in our league and that makes it tougher. They'll adjust to it thought. I love Vonleh. I think he's going to be great. And I think they're going to be pretty good. I really do."