BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) — This was the first game this season where the world was primed to overreact to an Indiana University basketball result.
Stumble against Nebraska at home and the Hoosiers would wobble into their first three-game losing streak — with road games against Purdue and Northwestern booked over the next 8 days (before unbeaten No. 2 Michigan visits Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall).
The Hoosiers are in the middle of a six-game Big Ten death march that started with road losses to Michigan and Maryland. They hoped to split the six games. Now skeptics are wondering if they can win one.
Win, and Indiana would advance to 4-2 in the Big Ten, alone in fourth place. That would not a terrible credential to flash in a league expected to put seven-to-nine teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Cue the howling. Cue the questions about what has happened to the group that beat Marquette by 23 and outlasted Butler and Louisville?
Nebraska dunked on the Hoosiers on their first possession and never backed away, surging to an 18-point first-half lead while beating Indiana, 66-51. The three-game losing streak left Indiana’s record 12-5 overall and 3-3 in the league.
"I think for whatever reason, I didn't see the team we've had all year," IU coach Archie Miller said. "We were very emotionless ... as a coach you've got to push the right buttons and we're not pushing the right buttons right now. We have some guys who have lost some confidence."
"We've just got to be grown men about this," said Indiana senior Juwan Morgan. "We can't let the losses keep stacking."
Offense was the issue. OK, defense was also an issue, but offense was the primary issue. IU scored 22 points in the first half. The last time Indiana scored less than 51 points was Jan. 5, 2015, when they managed only 50 on Michigan State.
They got 18 from Romeo Langford, 17 from Morgan and not nearly enough from the rest of the group, which did not include Al Durham, who left with an injury in the first half and did not return. Nobody else scored more than five. Another number to digest: Morgan and Langford made 13 of 29 shots. The other IU players made 6 of 23 (26 percent).
The Hoosiers started so poorly another Indiana coach might have tossed a chair — at his guys, not the officials.
Langford and Morgan were soft in covering a pick and roll on Nebraska’s first possession. That resulted in a dunk by Isaiah Roby.
It was the first of fourth straight shots that Nebraska made. Indiana countered by missing its first five, slipping behind, 9-0.
"We can't start off like that," Morgan said. "That's happened too much this year. We can't always take the first punch."
Miller saw enough that he barked his demand for a timeout less than three minutes into the game.
It got worse. Turnovers. Ugly shots. Several Nebraska dunks. The Cornhuskers surged to an 18-5 lead, and until the pep band cranked up, scattered boos could be heard after back-to-back empty possessions by Miller’s team.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles changed defenses. He mixed in a 1-3-1 zone with aggressive traps. Indiana did not attack the traps. Turnovers resulted.
Nebraska pushed its advantage to 25-7 before Indiana increased the tempo and started to attack before Nebraska’s defense was set.
"We played too conservative against the 1-3-1 zone," Langford said. "We weren't attacking."
"Offensively, we were just horrendous in the first half," Miller said.
Indiana rallied, with a critical contribution from an usual player. Sophomore forward Clifton Moore had a basket and a free throw. That’s only three points. That’s also double Moore’s average,
Down nine at halftime, Indiana cut the Nebraska lead to one-possession (35-32) but the Hoosiers defense disappeared. Nebraska next five baskets were a layup, a follow and a trio of three-point shots. Nebraska led 48-36. Indiana never threatened again.
"We just weren't tough enough through stretches of this game," Morgan said. "As bad as this is, there's no excuse for it."
Mackey Arena looms for Indiana. The Hoosiers have not won at Purdue since 2013, losing three in a row to the Boilermakers.
"We can't let the negativity of losing and having a rough patch take away from who we are," Miller said. "That was probably the most disappointing game we've played all season at either end of the floor. We didn't have any pop."
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