Indiana struggled at times defensively in its first four conference games, but the Hoosiers’ vulnerability was mostly hidden by their hot shooting.
The No. 7 Hoosiers (15-2, 3-2) entered Thursday night’s game against Minnesota as the nation’s top 3-point shooting team by percentage. They were shooting 50.5 percent from the field overall. In many ways, they were winning by simply outshooting their opponents.
When Indiana’s shots weren’t falling against the Golden Gophers, however, their shortcomings on defense were much more visible – and costly.
The Hoosiers made only 4-of-18 shots from 3-point range and 24-of-55 overall. They struggled to find an offensive rhythm or get enough defensive stops to go on an extended run.
The Hoosiers’ inability to get a stop down the stretch put them in deeper and deeper holes – holes they were unable to climb out of.
“The easiest thing in the world to do is to be sky high when you’re making shots,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “The hardest thing to do is to understand how committed you have to be to the game of defense and rebounding when you’re not.
“Defense creates offense, defense creates more opportunities, defense creates the fast break – you name it. The best teams gain confidence from their defense, not the other way around.”
Indiana, which usually relies on its defense to get momentum-building baskets, had only four fastbreak points against Minnesota. The Hoosiers forced 11 turnovers, and committed 16 of them.
“We just didn’t have our edge,” guard Jordan Hulls said. “Didn’t get the stops that we needed, let them get way too many open shots, didn’t take away things that we needed to – just very poor defensively. … We’ve just gotta be mature enough and have that edge.”
The Gophers did most of their damage in the first half from beyond the arc, hitting 6-of-13 shots from distance. Indiana repeatedly left open shooters, and watched at Minnesota build a sizeable lead.
While the Hoosiers held Minnesota without a 3-pointer in the second half, they gave up numerous offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities that helped the Gophers earn the upset.
“We challenged some shots,” Crean said, “but then all of a sudden we give up an offensive rebound, or we lose a guy on the back line as he slides under.
“It comes down to mindset. … When you start to win, as things change around you, your mindset can’t change. They’ve gotta learn, they’ve gotta grow through that.”
SHEEHEY RETURNS IN LIMITED ROLE
Sophomore Will Sheehey returned for the floor for the Hoosiers after missing five games with a left ankle injury. Sheehey scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 15 minutes, and also pulled down six rebounds. Crean said it was the first time Sheehey has played “up and down” the court since the injury.
“It felt fine,” Sheehey said. “I just had to get warmed up and what not, but it wasn’t enough tonight.”
Filed to: Will Sheehey