After the game, Indiana coach Tom Crean opened his press conference with the blunt words that summed up the night.
“I’ve never been involved in a game where a team was as different in one half as they were in the other today,” he said.
He was angry, disappointed, embarrassed. In the Hoosiers’ true lone away game of the non-conference season, his team was within four points at halftime against the No. 5 Syracuse Orange.
By the final buzzer, Indiana had lost, 69-52.
From the start of that second half, Indiana had gone from potentially upsetting the team that knocked them out in last year’s NCAA tournament to going back to the drawing board. What changed?
“I just felt like we got away from what was working for us in the first half and that’s why they got the lead and stretched it out,” freshman Noah Vonleh said. “In the first half, we were establishing it in the post, catching it in the high post, looking for guys in the corners, the wings, attacking, everybody was getting fouled. We were in the bonus early.
“But when the second half started, we just started settling for 3-pointers, and that’s not where our game plan is.”
Crean could sense by the time his team left the locker room for the second half that something was wrong. His team was quiet. Too quiet.
Whatever you call it, Indiana won’t think of it as a rematch.
Less than nine months after Syracuse knocked Indiana out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C., the two teams will face each other tonight at the Carrier Dome at 7:15 p.m., as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
For Indiana senior Will Sheehey, he experienced the loss firsthand. He played 26 minutes that game, as the Hoosiers’ national title hopes were dashed in their lowest scoring output of the season, a 61-50 defeat. But even he, on the eve of their matchup against the No. 4 team in the country, hesitated to call it a rematch.
“We’re going to look at it just purely as a basketball game, not really at the emotions surrounding it,” he said. “Obviously, reliving the end of your season last year is not what you want to do but we’re going to dive into the film, and we have been, in looking at specific things within the game. Not necessarily the emotional part, but more like the X’s and O’s.”
Yes, eight months removed from the decisive game, both teams are much different — each losing significant contributors to graduation or the NBA. Indiana lost four of its five starters. Syracuse lost three of its four leading scorers (Brandon Triche, James Southerland, Michael Carter-Williams).
“We can’t focus on ‘rematch,’ ” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “We can focus on the things we learned from the game, but it’s two different teams.”
Still, much remains the same.
Indiana coach Tom Crean saw his team’s potential in perhaps its worst half of the season.
On Friday, Nov. 22, in the 2K Sports Classic final against then-No. 18 Connecticut, his Hoosiers went 9-for-24 from the field, had 12 turnovers and somehow only trailed, 30-24. Though Indiana would subsequently lose the game, 59-58, Crean was convinced.
“You’ve got limited time and you’re trying to not wear them down and they are young guys, and you’ve got a million things you’re thinking about,” he said on Nov. 26, following Indiana’s 77-46 win against Evansville. “But the bottom line is we just have to get better at certain things every day and not get ahead of ourselves. We never get ahead of ourselves game wise, but we are asking them to learn a lot.”
Seven games into the season, Crean has a lot to be optimistic about.
As of Saturday morning, Indiana (6-1) was the No. 4 offensive rebounding team (45.6 offensive rebounding percentage) in the nation and was No. 11 in getting to the foul line with a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 60.6 percent. His team is playing to the pace he wants with an adjusted tempo of 74.3 possessions per game, which ranks 20th nationally.
Indiana is also averaging 86.4 points per game — No. 24 in the country — and is limiting opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 39.5, which is fifth nationally.
But his team is still one of the youngest in the country, one that has six freshmen and five sophomores on scholarship. According to KenPom.com, the Hoosiers rank 325th in the country in terms of experience.
“I’m the first one that’s getting too far ahead, and I realized that today,” Crean said after the Evansville win.
“I think the hard thing for me, I see how good they can be. I see their talent level. I’ve known them for so long through the recruiting process and things like that. I want greatness for them.”
As the news circulated, Indiana fans were perplexed.
When Indiana’s starting lineup was announced for its seventh game of the season on Tuesday night against Evansville, sophomore Jeremy Hollowell, who had started the Hoosiers’ six prior games, was excluded. In his place, senior walk-on Jeff Howard — who had played only 85 minutes of college basketball in his career — would start.
The buzz generated on social media led to “Jeff Howard” trending nationally on Twitter during much of Indiana’s 77-46 win against Evansville, as the Hoosiers advanced to 6-1 in the 2013-2014 season.
“Coach did what he did for his reasons,” Howard said following the game, in which he scored two points, grabbed three rebounds and had one assist in 15 minutes of action. “I just came and brought to the team what I bring to the team.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Indiana coach Tom Crean told both Howard and Hollowell the news. His reasoning, Crean insisted, was that Howard “epitomized what we wanted out there in the form of energy, communication and intensity.”
But Howard has played only eight minutes this entire season. There was no intention, Crean said, of trying to “light a fire” for Hollowell to perform better.
Check out 22 photos by Jamie Owens from Indiana’s 77-46 win over Evansville at Assembly Hall in the embedded photo gallery after the jump. Purchase prints from J. Scott Sports.
As Indiana (5-1) steps onto the court tonight at Assembly Hall, one of the questions it must answer is simple. How will the Hoosiers react to their first loss of the season?
Last Friday, the Hoosiers fell to Connecticut, 59-58, and watched as the Huskies celebrated the 2K Sports Classic title on the court at Madison Square Garden. With such a young group, Indiana coach Tom Crean asked to team to shake off the loss and focus on an undefeated Evansville (5-0) over the past four days.
He has been satisfied with the reaction.
“There’s nobody walking in on Sunday that I didn’t think understood that we played a really good team and we came up short,” he said. “Our job is to define the reality of what could have been better and show them how we’re going to get to that point. This was a great learning experience for them to understand it never, ever comes down to the last play.”
On Friday night, the Hoosiers had their season-high in turnovers (19), they had foul trouble, they played an experienced and veteran team and did it in a unique environment. But what Crean took from the game was that his team did not fold under pressure. In fact, they had a chance to win the game twice in the final 15 seconds. And though the result did not go IU’s way, Crean realizes his team continues to have a lot to build on.
NEW YORK — In a game that had eight ties and 13 lead changes, it was fitting that it all came down to the final possession.
Indiana (5-1) and Connecticut (6-0) had exchanged blow for blow throughout the 2K Sports Classic championship game, and the Hoosiers had the final chance to win trailing 59-58 with only 22.4 seconds left.
But much like it went throughout the night for Indiana, the Hoosiers could not make the shot they desperately wanted as sophomore Yogi Ferrell missed a pull-up jump shot from the right wing, his 13th miss of the night. The Hoosiers, however, were able to retain possession following the ensuing scrum and attempted an in-bounds pass with .7 seconds remaining.
It went to freshman Noah Vonleh, who only played 10 minutes due to foul trouble, and the buzzer sounded before he could attempt a shot after turning around to face the basket.
Indiana had lost its first game of the 2013-2014 season in front of an announced 10,051 at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, but the Hoosiers’ postgame verbatim was solely optimistic.
“We’ll learn how to win low-scoring, close games like this,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “I think it says a lot about where our guys are at already for UConn to play really as slow as they did and take as much time off the shot clock as they did.
“And when a team likes to score and has had over 100 points in three of the five games and they’ve got to grind it out and they do, all the way to the end — we don’t get the result, but we do grind it out — I like our upside.”