Indiana’s 66-65 Loss to Penn State Likely Ends Dream of NCAA Bid as Season on the Brink II Breaks

by Kent Sterling

Penn State coach Pat Chambers was one of the few of the nearly 18,000 leaving Assembly Hall tonight with a smile on his face.

Penn State coach Pat Chambers was one of the few of the nearly 18,000 leaving Assembly Hall tonight with a smile on his face.

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.

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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.

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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.

11 thoughts on “Indiana’s 66-65 Loss to Penn State Likely Ends Dream of NCAA Bid as Season on the Brink II Breaks

  1. Philboyd Studge

    Look at the bright side Kent. Clappy Crean has a 5-year contract with a several million dollar buyout, thanks to the brilliant strategic thinking by Fred Glass. I know you have been an ardent supporter of both, so I know that makes you happy. Me too, I must admit.

    I said it the day after the Syracuse debacle last March — That was the best team Crean will ever put on the floor at Indiana, and it crashed and burned in the Sweet 16. Nothing since on the court, in recruiting or elsewhere has given me the slightest concern that I was wrong.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Not sure how I belong to the class of ‘ardent supporter.’

      I try to see the entire body of work, and not limit myself to Indiana’s inability to solve the Syracuse 2-3 twice in the last 11 months or inability to inbound the ball three times in the last three minutes of last night’s game.

  2. cwiggy

    Trying to figure out what went wrong? I follow the team loosely and can think of at least 3 occasions where they have lost a game on an inbounds after a time out in the last two years. I bet if I followed the team as close as you I would remember 8 or 9. That is not a coincidence when it’s done with different players each time. Great recruiter, seems like a superb human being ( judging from Twitter post ), not a Big time Div 1 coach. He would do well at a top 20 program. I still consider Indiana a top 5 program. One more mediocre year then bring in Stevens.

  3. Warren / TN.

    It’s really difficult to know what to say at this point from my perspective. I suppose I should say that as a UK fan, I’ve seen plenty of low moments over 35+ years. Yet I urge the true Hoosier faithful to refrain from sheer despair over this loss and season, which appears to be lost. I want to say now is not the time to reflect on the direction of the program and start harping on major changes that are needed to correct the course it’s taking. However, the sheer volume and intensity of fans debating that very subject makes it impossible to ignore without stating, at the very least, an opinion. So I’ll try to wade in with all due respect on it….

    Barring a miracle, there will be no NCAA berth this year. That, in and of itself, is a failure to meet expectations, no doubt about it. I’ve been looking at the recruiting for next year and I think maybe, just maybe, these young men can succeed with those that return. That’s even with the very real possibility that Vonleh leaves to go to the NBA. I would characterize next year as a wait and see approach before even thinking about submitting to despair. Then we have to look long and hard at head coach Tom Crean.

    His exorbitant buyout makes me think that he’s going to be at Indiana, like it or not, until the buyout at least goes down to $1 million, and that would be 2016 – correct? Without major improvement of the program, the cries to fire him will be at an ear-splitting decibel level by then. Regardless of being a good guy, CTC was brought in to win and make the tournament, and not just a couple of sweet sixteen appearances, either. Everything will depend on next year, either he succeeds or the writing will be on the wall, like it or not. I think that would be a fair time to assess things at that point.

    For some Hoosier fans, anger and despair will undoubtedly take over. Here is where I would urge restraint. You cannot give up on the course you have set without taking yet another step backwards, and you can’t do that. Support Tom Crean and the program with an even more determined fervor and faith that he can get the job done. I’ll admit, I’ve been VERY critical of him, but you cannot give up on him or the course you’ve set – not yet. It will take a huge amount of faith and belief to get through this, admittedly. In my opinion, it’s time to buckle down and remain defiant in the face of adversity – yet again.

    When, and if, the time comes for a major change, it should be done when emotions have simmered down and cooler heads have prevailed. Now is not the time for any of that. Rally the wagons and batten down the hatches, but don’t lose hope or faith. Never lose hope or faith.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      The only correction is something that I originally wrote a few months ago. There was an ESPN report on the Crean buyout that didn’t specify the direction. It said that the buyout would be $8-million until after the 2014-2015 season, and then drop to $1 million. It never occurred to me that it could be Crean owing the $8-million for leaving. I have asked for clarity from IU regarding the buyout for the school to fire Crean, but haven’t received an answer. I could file a public records request, and will if I don’t get an answer soon.

      There is a faction of Indiana fans who just don’t get him. A Indiana alum friend with whom I watched the game last night has tried to embrace Crean, but can’t. There is just something about him that irks a sizable group of alums.

      The question of Crean’s future is going to hound Fred Glass all spring and summer if there isn’t a significant turnaround.

  4. Jeff Gregory

    Speaking as a former coach, coaches are very aware of play that points to poor coaching. Tom Crean must be doing some self examination after the Penn St. game.

    Teams take on the personality of the coach. The personality IU exhibits is one of an inconsistent, panicky, choke artist. This team, like all teams, makes mistakes – but they make the same ones in the same game. They repeatedly have trouble managing the shot clock. Ten second violations are rare; to have more than one in a game is inexcusable. Sometimes defensive intensity can catch a team off balance. To repeatedly get burned trying to get the ball in bounds is ridiculous. Bad decisions, the lack of adjustment . . . all these things are obvious coaching deficiencies.

    I wouldn’t say that that I have been an ardent Crean supporter. I have been very critical. I also have stated that he should be evaluated after next season. However, games like the one last night makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit when thinking about enduring another season and a half of ineptness.

    I have revised my philosophy on this. Now, as far as I am concerned, Crean’s fate lies with Vonleh and Farrell. If they stay next year, I would let Crean ride out another season. If either one or both of them leave, Crean should be right behind them. This team will not improve without them; that’s for sure. If IU has to rebuild again, they might as well do it with a different coach.

    Of course, this view doesn’t consider contract considerations so it is moot. However, an IU fan has to be able to vent, right?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Venting is good for the soul. Crean was also the coach last year when the team didn’t underachieve. He hasn’t gotten dumber.

      The one area I believe gets overlooked by non-Indiana people is that by recruiting kids from here, you get guys who have already gone to basketball graduate school. The players from elsewhere might be athletically superior, but give me the four best players out of Indiana every year, and I could win a national championship.

      Recruiting size outside the borders has to be done, but driving across the state line to recruit guards is a waste of gas. There are exceptions. Some Indiana kids play like idiots, and there are some really smart players who come from elsewhere, but the rule is a good one.

      1. Jeff Gregory

        Well, to be fair, it is hard to under-achieve with the team he had last year. Yet, many believe he did. I can only concede that he is a good guy and good recruiter. So far, thete more evidence to support his lack of coaching ability than there is that he is a good coach for an elite program.

        For his sake, I hope Vonleh and Ferrell stays.

  5. Marthas Broom

    Indiana didn’t underachieve last season? Wait, what?

    We had 2 lottery picks, four 1,000 point scorers, and easily the best all around talent IU has seen in 15 years…and we damned near lost to Temple in the round of 32. The Syracuse game that followed was an epic underachievement played out on a national stage.

    It’s becoming clear to anyone with an ounce of objectivity that Crean is not capable of leading this program to greatness. He is too manic, too obsessed with unimportant minutae, and ultimately too self-congratulatory (see, cutting down nets after losing at home to OSU, “special” banners being raised, etc.). He has zero feel for the game, and he overcompensates for this by overcoaching, oversubbing, and drowning himself and his players in a sea of ancillary metrics. Nobody gives a sh*t about deflections, Tom. We care about winning. Any team can ramp up the deflections by cheating on the passing lanes (thereby giving opponents easy baskets once they get behind the defender). Nobody cares if the f*cking Roland Average with Marlin, Howard, and Perea on the floor at the same time looks good in a 5 game sample.

    I realize that he isn’t going anywhere thanks to the buyout our genius AD gave him, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pretend that the is anything but a mediocre coach.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Indiana played its worst basketball last season when it mattered most. No doubt about that. Their legs went away – or it looked like fatigue was an issue from the Ohio State game forward (minus the Michigan game).

      Your third paragraph is a well-reasoned and intelligent argument that points out the oft-cited criticisms of Crean. I’m choosing to wait until the season ends to embrace it as gospel.

      1. Marthas_Broom

        Fair enough, Kent. I like your writing and your overall take on things, btw. Nothing would make me happier than to be dead wrong about Crean.

        I honestly find myself having thoughts like, “I wonder if Joannie could convince him to get on Adderal. He might be an excellent coach on the right meds.” lol.


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