Sports Reporter

Romeo Langford

Romeo Langford and Indiana exited the Big Ten Tournament Thursday after falling 20 points behind Ohio State. WDRB Photo/Rick Bozich

CHICAGO, Ill. (WDRB) -- A million questions always swirl around the Indiana University basketball team. These three were not on the list that anybody expected after Romeo Langford committed to the Hoosiers from New Albany High School last April 30:

If asked, will Indiana accept an invitation to the — gulp! — NIT?

If the Hoosiers accept, will they agree to play games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, something the administration declined to do after another flat season two years ago.

And, if they’re NIT bound, will the Hoosiers’ lineup include Langford, considering you’re likely to hear people whisper that a one-and-done talent like Langford shouldn’t risk injury in an event that lost its relevance 50 years ago?

Those are three questions that I asked after Indiana fell 20 points behind Ohio State before exiting the Big Ten Tournament with a 79-75 loss Thursday afternoon.

The answers:

Yes, if bypassed for the NCAA, IU will play in the NIT, an IU administrator said.

Yes, the Hoosiers are open to playing at home.

And Langford?

“Yeah, I will (play in the NIT),” he said.

Langford said it without hesitation. But he did say it with considerable disappointment because he should be considerably disappointed.

As should Archie Miller. And Juwan Morgan. And Robert Phinisee. And De’Ron Davis. And everybody associated with the Indiana program.

Three consecutive seasons outside the only tournament that matters should not be on the Mission Statement of any Big Ten program. Not in the world of 68-team fields, with eight or more teams from the conference expecting invitations.

“I’ve enjoyed myself this season but I know it hasn’t really gone the way it was expected,” Langford said.

“(If IU misses the NCAA Tournament), we’re all going to be real disappointed because that was our goal going into this season. That’s what we wanted to do and achieve and we had that opportunity. We’ve just got to wait and see.”

Nothing will be official until Sunday evening but everything about this game smelled like an opportunity lost.

An opportunity with Langford around for his one season.

He finished with nine points in 36 1/2 minutes, scrambling to get to that total with four points in the final minute-and-a-half.

This a player who averages nearly 17 and is projected to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft in about three months. Several NBA scouts gathered on the baseline before the game to watch Langford warm up.

Miller needed to find a way to get Indiana more from its best player. Langford needed to play with an edge to keep the Hoosiers from falling behind, 63-43. Didn’t happen. He wasn’t the only guy who lacked an edge. That was a lengthy list.

“Everybody could see that (the edge) wasn’t where it was the past four games that we won,” Langford said. “It was just evident that it wasn’t where it should be. We paid for it.”

Obvious follow-up question: Why? How is that possible, considering ESPN and social media has been packed with commentaries that this game was a Must-Win for the Hoosiers?

“I really don’t have an answer for that one,” he said. “We didn’t come out ready to play and they did.”

Consider it an opportunity lost for the entire team, too, with the Hoosiers positioned to play their way into the NCAA Tournament by knocking Ohio State out of the field.

Not only did the Hoosiers play up to their tortured history in this event, which they have never won, they also played down to their slumbering January-February stretch where they lost 12 of 13 games.

Kirk Haston, Jared Jeffries, Dane Fife, D.J. White, Eric Gordon, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Yogi Ferrell, Romeo Langford?

Bob Knight, Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson, Dan Dakich, Tom Crean and Archie Miller?

They’re all in the same club of Indiana players who have been unable to win this tournament.

“In the eight minute stretch we started to come back and play real well. but it wasn’t enough,” Langford said. “But give Ohio State credit. It’s not something you expect going into the game, being down 20.”

On an afternoon when the Hoosiers needed to play as if they were down by 20 points with three seconds to play, they performed as if their season did not come with an expiration date.

They were outworked. They outmaneuvered. They were out-toughed.

Turnovers made winning nearly impossible. After three consecutive games of single-digit turnovers, IU threw it way 17 times against the Buckeyes.

Robert Phinisee had not committed more than one turnover in a game since Jan. 30. He made two in the first half, three in the game.

Justin Smith averaged 14 points in Indiana’ four-game winning streak. He scored nothing against Ohio State.

They were outplayed badly for nearly 32 minutes. They fell behind by 20 points, managing to reduce the final margin to a four by throwing in six three-point shots in the final 7 1/2 minutes, two in the last 13 seconds.

The best thing you could say about this performance is that Indiana failed to quit. But failing to quit isn’t enough to bump a team into the discussion in March.

“We still played hard throughout the season,” Langford said. “That’s why we’re in this position that we’re in today to see if we’re going to make it or not. A couple of months ago you would have thought we wouldn’t even be in this position.”

And 10 months ago, after Langford committed to Indiana, nobody thought the Hoosiers would be in this position.

But they are. And they have earned it.

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