by Kent Sterling
Trying to find a word that fairly and generously describes Indiana’s failed effort to hold onto an 11-point lead with two-and-a-half minutes to play is difficult. The best I can muster is “inept.”
Yogi Ferrell made Indiana’s final field goal of the game with 5:16 left, and the Hoosiers turned the ball over five times in the last 2:06. Three of those turnovers were committed by three different Indiana players on failed inbounds plays.
Stanford Robinson committed a foul with 2:06 left in the game while up nine points that was unnecessary, ill-advised, and poorly timed. Three seconds into a Penn State possession, Robinson ran into Tim Frazier when the Penn State guard was in no position to attempt to score. The resulting free throws cut the Hoosiers lead to seven, and the unraveling began.
It’s unfair to single out Robinson for committing a silly foul because this was truly a team effort that led to a stunning collapse. The only player without a turnover or hard-to-fathom brain cramp was Hanner Mosquiera-Perea, whose minutes were limited.
Assessing blame for the debacle is difficult because we have no idea whether this was a case of a bad teacher instructing good students poorly, bad students ignoring a good teacher, or a bad teacher with slow-to-adapt students.
And blame is the purview of the fans and media. For the players and coaches, they are scratching their heads wondering what they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again, not point fingers.
The result is much easier to describe than blame is to assign. It was a complete meltdown and critical hiccup in a bizarre and impossible to predict season that likely came to an end tonight – at least by any meaningful measurement.
Any real hope for an NCAA at-large bid left Assembly Hall before the Hoosiers left the floor. Home losses to Northwestern and Penn State will move the Hoosiers resume’ to the tall stack of the 280-ish Division One programs that will enjoy March Madness from afar. A recovery would require five wins in their last seven games, and anyone who watched Indiana host the team that was tied for last in the Big Ten when the game began tonight would find it hard to imagine beating two of the four ranked teams remaining on Indiana’s schedule, plus the three that are not.
Some on Twitter are calling this the worst loss in program history, and that is not only unfair but untrue. I recall a game played in the early 2000s against Minnesota when the Hoosiers led by coach Mike Davis blew a 16-point lead with 3:00 left. That was worse than this. NCAA losses to Cleveland State in 1986 and to Richmond in 1988 were worse. There have been a bunch of awful losses over the years, but this one joins them.
Credit on some level must go to Penn State for not allowing the Hoosiers to blow the game open when the chance existed. The Nittany Lions continued to compete, and were ready to take full advantage of the bevy of Indiana miscues when the game was on the line.
This Indiana team is a confounding bunch. Capable of beating top ten teams one night, and the dumping games against bottom feeders the next. Guessing what to expect is alternately as frustrating and validating as betting at the craps table.
Losers of five of their last seven, Indiana needs to regroup quickly, but after tonight it’s hard to imagine correcting the issues that caused tonight’s loss in the two days they have until rolling up to West Lafayette to play Purdue. Actually, it’s not so hard to imagine because immediately prior to their 11-point win vs. Michigan, Indiana lost to Nebraska.
Now the question is whether the players allow a game like this to cause them to resist the urge to compete. Despite erratic play, Indiana has given effort throughout each game of the season.
While this game was a nightmare for players, coaches, and fans, there are still games left to play, and they are still meaningful. Every single opportunity a man has to compete has meaning, and although mounting a seven-game string of redemptive efforts seem as unlikely as you or me winning a gold medal in the giant slalom in Sochi, there are six teams and three games between IU and third place in the Big Ten, and the Hoosiers play five of those teams down the stretch.
Whatever the chances of each Hoosier finding a way to have the light go on simultaneously, impossible is a mathematical term that is not yet in play.