Indiana came from 13 points ahead to lose to Penn State Wednesday night.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – This one can't be covered with mascara, paint, duct tape or any sparkling words. This one can't be rationalized, justified or spun. This one was received with the Assembly Hall reaction that you would expect:
Penn State 66, Indiana 65.
After the Hoosiers led by 13 points – with less than 12 minutes to play. After they led by 11 in the final 3:19. After they led by seven with two minutes to play. After they failed to score a basket in the final 5:16.
After they turned the ball over three times in the final 33 seconds, twice while trying to throw the ball from Point A to Point B on inbounds plays. After committing 20 turnovers, 10 in each half. After the Hoosiers missed their last five shots.
After they turned over a 13-point lead at Minnesota Saturday. After they blew a 16-point lead at Nebraska. After the Hoosiers also lost in Assembly Hall to Northwestern earlier in this Big Ten season.
After they positioned themselves outside strong consideration for the NCAA Tournament by not beating anybody of significance in non-conference play. After …
There's more. But that serves as a start.
"We gave in to the pressure of the game a little bit," IU coach Tom Crean said.
Now there is a different kind of pressure -- pressure to figure out why this team keeps giving back games they could be winning. This was an opportunity for IU to move to the edge of NCAA bubble talk with a double-digit win. Instead, Indiana finished this game looking as confused as the Hoosiers have looked all season.
Fans were howling about considerably more than that as they exited into a freezing Southern Indiana night. On the list of things that will make people question a coach, blowing a 13-point second half lead to the worst team in the Big Ten will immediately make its way to the top of the list.
But even that list of burps is not enough to capture how miserably Indiana played in the final 10 minutes against Penn State Wednesday night. The only good thing about this one was most of the country didn't see it because they were watching Syracuse save its unbeaten season against Pittsburgh.
"We panicked," said IU senior Will Sheehey.
"It's not very fun to lose a game like that," said Yogi Ferrell, the Hoosiers' point guard.
If you want to know what happened, here is a 100-word summary:
The Hoosiers led by six points at halftime but should have led by 16. They didn't because of their unfixable issue with turnovers and a failure to guard Penn State's three-point shooters. In the second half, Indiana moved the lead into double figures multiple times. But they could never get it to 20 because you're never going to move 20 points ahead of even the worst team in the Big Ten if you keep playing so carelessly with the basketball. Then, in the final 33 seconds, Indiana panicked as thoroughly as I have seen a team panic in many years.
This was more than the loss of a basketball game. This was a loss of composure, a lack of direction. For a coach, this was the kind of loss that makes people forget your team beat Michigan, the first-place team in the league, 10 days ago and that your program won the Big Ten regular-season title 11 months ago. This is one people will remember, especially if IU doesn't rally over its last seven Big Ten games.
"The turnovers?" Crean said. "There's no excuse."
The coach is absolutely correct about that. No excuse. Turnovers swallowed Indiana. It wasn't surprising to anybody who has watched this team lose 10 of 24 games. Turnovers have swallowed the Hoosiers all season. When the game began, Indiana had made 67 more turnovers than any other Big Ten team over the season. This was the fourth time IU has kicked the ball away at least 20 times. That's silly.
But this was more than simply making 20 turnovers. This was about panic -- just like Crean and Sheehey admitted. Yes, even Crean used that word. That is never a good word for a coach to use about his team.
When a team panics, that's when the players need their coach the most. Crean did not have an answer. Not the right lineup combination. Not a script for getting the basketball in play. Not anything to turn the panic into poise.
Indiana suffered a five-second count violation and two awful passes in the final 2:06. Crean asked Jeremy Hollowell, Will Sheehey and Noah Vonleh to throw the ball inbounds. None could deliver, not after Penn State dialed up the full-court man-to-man pressure and double-teamed Ferrell. Panic it certainly was.
"The pressure of the game got to us a little bit," Crean said. "A couple of five-second calls. I keep going to the word awareness. That's the nicest word I can use."
Now Indiana goes to Purdue Saturday. Must win. Then the Hoosiers return to Assembly Hall Tuesday for a game against Iowa that Dick Vitale will call for ESPN. Must win. Then at Northwestern. Must win. At Wisconsin. Must win. The only way you get people to stop talking about a dreadful loss like this loss is to win games like those.
"I can't psycho-analyze it," Crean said. "We've got to go back to work tomorrow. It is what it is."