NEW CASTLE — Through eight minutes, it looked as if the defending 3A state champion Washington Hatchets would make a statement against one of the top 4A teams in the Indianapolis area — Center Grove.
IU signee and Mr. Basketball candidate Cody Zeller came out playing as well as he could — 12 points and four rebounds in the first quarter — and Washington held a comfortable 26-17 lead.
But the tide quickly turned in the City Securities Hall of Fame Classic as the Hatchets struggled to find Zeller for open looks. After six shot attempts in the first quarter, Zeller took just six shots the rest of the way.
And Center Grove, led by IPFW signee Johnny Marlin (17 points) and Butler signee Andrew Smeathers (12 points), shot 56 percent in the second half for a 68-64 win.
Zeller finished with 24 points (8-of-12 from the field, 7-of-8 from the foul line), 11 rebounds, two steals and an assist and played all 32 minutes in front of IU coach Tom Crean and assistant Tim Buckley.
Here’s audio of Zeller’s postgame comments about the 68-64 loss, Washington’s third of the season. The Hatchets will play again this evening at 6 p.m. against Nic Moore and Warsaw, which fell to Bloomington South, 65-62.
Update: Here’s HD video of Zeller after the Center Grove loss:
The Inside the Hall Twitter mailbag is a weekly collection of questions tweeted to us via our Twitter account, @insidethehall. Tweet us your questions each week and we’ll answer as many as we can. Now, onward …
@grllin writes: Given the team’s results over the last week or so, is it time to change the realistic expectations for the year?
Alex Bozich: Most of the expectations for this season had a baseline of 14 or 15 wins with a ceiling of 17. And that was with Guy-Marc Michel figured into the equation. In order to reach that ceiling, Indiana probably needed to win ten games in its non-conference schedule and then hold serve at home against the bottom half of the Big Ten.
When the Hoosiers failed to win a game in Vegas and then stumbled against Penn State on Monday, there’s no question the expectations have changed. That 17-win plateau is probably out of the question, but I think this team still reaches 13 or 14 wins if it can stop the pattern of falling behind early. The fact, however, remains that IU is still a flawed team defensively that desperately lacks post scoring. In a loaded Big Ten, that’s no recipe for success.
@iu77bu81 writes: do u think watford should have played less due to his back spasms? Seemed to help creek
Alex Bozich: Hindsight is always 20/20, but this was a game Indiana needed to win and even with Watford at less than 100 percent, the decision to play him 25 minutes was probably the right one. He’s Indiana best player at this point. And he’s the closest thing the Hoosiers have to a reliable scorer. He wasn’t close to being himself against Penn State and some blown defensive assignments early were costly.
But on the flip side, if you bench him, who grabs those minutes? Tom Pritchard? Maybe, but he’s not a threat to score and his confidence is nearly gone. Bobby Capobianco? Much like Pritchard, he’s not going to score either and hasn’t earned more than spot playing time. Will Sheehey probably would have gotten more run, but Tom Crean said afterwards that he was a little banged up. Ultimately, Crean went with the lineup he felt gave him the best chance to win the game, but it just didn’t happen.
As I noted in TMA last night, the Hoosiers gave up several wide-open 3-point attempts in the first half against Penn State, ones that allowed the Nittany Lions to shoot 50 percent (5-of-10) in the first 20 minutes of the contest.
Here’s a detailed look at three straight Penn State possessions which resulted in nine quick points. What was once an 8-7 lead for the Hoosiers quickly turned into a 16-8 deficit and Tom Crean called a timeout to try and pick up the pieces.
Tim Frazier brings the ball up for Penn State as David Jackson calls for a pick:
BLOOMINGTON — Tom Crean appeared a man defiant in his postgame press conference Monday night.
He oozed belief, while admitting that, at times, his team has lost it. He said “old scars” were still hurting Indiana, particularly in close games like this, but remained adamant that his team will eventually put them to rest forever. He said the things a man in his position must say, perhaps the only things he could say.
But there’s a disconnect in that reasoning.
Indiana’s problems are no longer individual. They are not problems with Verdell Jones, or problems with rebounding, or turnovers or 3-point shooting or perimeter defense or ball pressure.
Indiana is losing as a team, suffering from an epidemic lack of confidence. Against Penn State on Monday night, players looked the wrong kind of cautious — double-clutching under the rim when a straight put-back would have been fine, unwilling to move or move the ball, or any of a host of other signs of a team that no longer believes in its every move.
“The old wounds and the old scars of getting close and not being able to pull it off came back and got us,” Crean said, referring to his team’s near comeback Monday night. The Hoosiers were down as much as 14 in the first half, but cut slowly into the deficit in the second, taking a brief one-point lead that lasted 35 seconds.
But, as has happened too many times over the last 2 1/2 years, the game slipped away, lost on what Crean described essentially as the fundamentals — box outs, defense — and a lack of belief.
“I’m not looking to see a 2:28 timeout with a ‘We just can’t get over the hump’ look, because that was the past repeating itself,” he said. “We’ve got to learn to get over the hump, and we haven’t been able to do that.”
Another game Indiana was favored to win, another loss.
In the Big Ten, you need defense, and you need someone to step up and hit shots when it matters.
Indiana had neither tonight inside Assembly Hall.
In the first half, Indiana allowed Penn State too many wide-open looks from beyond the arc. Despite entering Big Ten play as the worst shooting team in the league, the Nittany Lions converted on those opportunities, knocking down 50 percent (5-of-10) of their threes in the first half.
The Hoosiers did a better job of defending the three in the second half, but Talor Battle (19 points, six boards) hit three difficult ones, anyway. For the night, the Nittany Lions knocked down 8-of-17 for 47 percent.
And on the strength of guys like David Jackson (15 points, eight boards) and Jeff Brooks (23 points, eight boards) Battle didn’t have to shoulder all the load for Penn State tonight — even with a shortened seven-man rotation with the absence of Taran Buie. Jackson and Brooks helped the Nittany Lions to 53.8 percent shooting from the floor (21-of-39). Add in a solid night at the line (19-of-26, 73.1 percent) and Penn State was a very efficient offensive unit this evening.
After a sluggish first half, Indiana, on the backs of the Assembly Hall faithful and a pumped-up Tom Crean, played with more energy and worked to get more looks in and around the basket area. After only six points in the paint in the first half, Indiana got 14 in the second half. There seemed to be a momentum shift — with the Hoosiers even taking a 48-47 lead on a Maurice Creek layup with 8:45 to go. It was as close as 56-54 with 2:28 remaining, but Indiana failed to finish.