The Minute After: Northern Iowa

Thoughts on a 67-61 loss to Northern Iowa:

Defense, experience and execution.

UNI, a Sweet 16 team last season, brought all three to the table tonight, and it was all just a little too much for the Hoosiers to handle.

The Panthers were up in the Hoosiers’ grill on defense for much of the evening — a calling card of this team — holding them to only 42.6 percent shooting from the field  (20-of-47) and 15.4 percent shooting from three (2-0f-13), both well below their season averages.

UNI held the tempo down for long stretches of this game, a move that plays to their slow-paced styled — as color man Steve Lappas often told us, the Panthers were averaging 54 possessions per game, fourth slowest in the nation — while Tom Crean and his Hoosiers are more comfortable getting out and getting after it a bit.

And the Hoosiers often looked lost on defensive assignments, as a lack of communication on ball screens gave UNI open looks and room to operate.

But still, despite going down by double digits in the first half, Indiana was right in this thing when it mattered. On the strength of Derek Elston and Christian Watford — more on them later — the Hoosier amassed 26 points in the paint. And despite the communication troubles, Indiana did a good enough job on D, holding the Panthers to 42.9 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three after they hit 50 percent in the first half.

So there the Hoosiers were, tied up with the Panthers at 59-59 with 2:35 to go.

But on UNI’s next possession, Jordan Hulls got exposed on defense, as Johnny Moran, who was raining three over three on him in the first half, slipped behind Hulls on the baseline without him noticing and was assisted on a reverse layup. After a Maurice Creek miss, UNI’s ensuing possession saw Watford getting lost on a backdoor cut, allowing Lucas O’Rear — was that a mullet? — to score two on an easy layup.

And Watford, for all his strides this season, tried too hard to do it all himself on Indiana’s next possession to get a bucket, as he dribbled into traffic and coughed the ball up — reminiscent of his play at the end of the Kentucky game.

That was about all she wrote.

The Hoosiers may have been the more talented team, but talent can be negated with experience, defense and execution — as UNI proved on this rainy Las Vegas night.

Other thoughts:

+ Because this game was on a CBS affiliate and played on a neutral court with a sparse crowd (and featured UNI, a team that had a nice tourney run last season), it really felt like a tournament game tonight. Anyone else feeling the same way?

+ This was a point first brought up by Hugh Kellenberger of the Bloomington Herald-Times on Twitter, but it bears repeating: Victor Oladipo went for flash on two separate dunk attempts — coming up empty on both. In the first half off a steal, Vic went for a one-handed slam in which he brought the ball back far enough for a UNI defender to sneak in for a block. A quick lay-up or different approach on the jam is two points.

The other was on a cut to the basket off the baseline where he tried a reverse dunk that he just flat out missed.

During a recent Big Ten broadcast, I think it was Eric Collins who said something to the effect of Crean being concerned Oladipo is trying to make great plays instead of being a great player.

These two plays were a strong example of that.

+ This may not be possible every game because of matchups, but tonight against UNI, Crean went with Watford and Elston almost exclusively in the frontcourt. Pritchard only saw eight minutes, while Bobby Capobianco didn’t play at all.

And it worked. At least offensively.

Elston scored a career-high 19 points (8-of-9 from the field, 1-of-1 from three, 2-of-4 from the line). The Bearded One is playing with a confidence on offense I’m not sure we’ve seen in his young career. If he can keep playing with such resolve, he’ll continue to get these sort of minutes.

Watford continued to be a steady offensive presence, chipping in 23 points (7-of-13 from the field, 1-of-3 from three, 8-of-10 from the line) to go along with 10 rebounds.

IU scored 26 points in the point to UNI’s 10, and these two had a lot to do with it.

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