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.
Here’s a transcript of Tom Crean’s postgame comments to Don Fischer following the Hoosiers’ 67-61 loss to Northern Iowa in the IBN Sports Las Vegas Classic:
Don Fischer: Coach Crean, I know that’s a pretty disappointed locker room right now.
Tom Crean: Absolutely, it should be. We just didn’t play well enough in the first half. We got away from our mindset. We got away from what works for us, which is having a defensive disposition all the way across the court when it comes to pressuring shots, when it comes to pressuring the ball. We knew their stuff inside-out, we knew it cold, we prepared well, but then you just gotta turn around and go. And then we started thinking we were going to get it back with offense and it just doesn’t work that way.
Fischer: Coach, the 3-point shooting in the first half really cooled down for them in the second half. Was that a product of what you were doing defensively?
Crean: No, we were just better. We were better in the second half. We were more aggressive. We were more alert and aware. We put defense first. This team cannot play, I don’t many championship level type teams that can, but I know this team and we’re not championship level certainly, but we can’t even begin to be anything other than a very good defensive team and a pressure team that doesn’t allow people to run their stuff or doesn’t allow them to get open looks the way they got them. We didn’t make them earn baskets. There’s a couple of categories that we’re really, really into: defensive rebounding, defensive field goal percentage, defensive 3-point percentage and points off turnovers. And we lost all four of those battles. And when you lose all four of those battles, you’re not going to win the game.
Fischer: Coach, a couple of performances tonight. Derek Elston gave you a great start offensively in this ballgame. Christian Watford was tremendous throughout the contest from an offensive standpoint and rebounding.
Crean: Yeah. They were good. There’s no doubt about that. But we just didn’t sustain it on the defensive end so I have a hard time looking at the offensive part of it right now. We got the shots we wanted, we got the looks that we wanted and at one point, I said, ‘we’ve got to get the game called the same way on both ends’. And the referee says, ‘you’ve just been to the foul line the last two times, what are you complaining about?’ Those are the kind of things you really don’t want to hear because our whole game, we were 13-of-15 in the first half of scoring baskets when we got the ball into the paint. And that’s what we want to continue to be able to do. And that’s what the game called for. And so we got it in the lane and we didn’t always finish. Again, this game came down to our defensive mindset at the beginning of the game and it wasn’t good enough.
A few thoughts on tonight’s battle with Northern Iowa in Las Vegas:
1) The first thing that sticks out is Northern Iowa’s adjusted defensive efficiency (79th in the nation) is pretty solid. Or, at least, a higher level than most of Indiana’s opponents so far this season. So the Hoosiers’ sharpshooting offense should be tested a little more this evening coming off their hot performance against South Carolina State.
2) Indiana’s solid offensive rebounding prowess could be tested a little bit this evening, as UNI is allowing opponents to snatch only 25.8 percent of available offensive boards, good for 12th in the nation. If the Panthers keep the Hoosiers’ shooting percentage down and do a good job of keeping them off the boards, thus negating second-chance opportunities, it could help propel them towards a victory.
3) The Panthers don’t get to the line that often (249th in the nation in free-throw rate), so it’s possible that despite the Hoosiers sending opponents to the line at a high rate this season, it won’t be as pronounced a free-throw discrepancy as we’ve seen at times so far.
4) UNI does a good job of taking care of the basketball — 57th in turnover percentage (18.2 percent) — so the Hoosiers building off Sunday’s low turnover performance would be helpful in extending their opportunities on the offensive end and keeping close in this battle.
All stats from kenpom.com and are through Monday night’s games.
A small group of reporters huddled outside the Evansville Bosse locker room following the Bulldogs’ 79-71 loss to Washington on Friday.
We were there to try and speak with Bosse’s heralded freshman Jaquan Lyle, who picked up a scholarship offer from Indiana and is drawing attention from a bevy of high major schools.
But as our conversation with Bosse coach Shane Burkhart drew to a conclusion and a reporter from the Illinois’ Rivals site asked about his star freshman’s media availability, it became clear that a conversation with Lyle was off limits.
“Nope, not gonna happen. Sorry. He’s 14, man,” Burkhart said.
Credit Burkhart for not further feeding the growing hype surrounding Lyle.
“He’s 14 years old,” the Bosse coach explained. “And we’ve got so many things we’ve got to do to keep his head above water. We’re not really concentrating so much on the basketball stuff, we’re concentrating on trying to keep people away. We’re trying to get him to a point where he is what he is to grow up.”
The natural talent Lyle possesses is clear from the moment he steps on the floor. Friday was Lyle’s lowest point total (16) in four games and the 6-4 wing struggled until late, when he hit three consecutive 3-pointers with Cody Zeller on the bench.
“As a freshman in four games, I don’t know if you can ask much more than that,” Burkhart said. “He’s meeting the call. He just struggles a little bit at the point of still learning the basics of some of the game.”
The strength of Lyle’s game is his versatility. He’s not yet explosive off the dribble, but he excels on the perimeter as a shooter and a facilitator for his teammates.
Throughout the season, Inside the Hall will keep you posted on how 2011 signees Austin Etherington and Cody Zeller, IU’s eight verbal commitments and other notable prospects with interest in the Hoosiers, are performing at their respective schools.
You can send us stats or results for this report at email@example.com. (Thanks to Kelin for the special assist on some stats this week.) Here’s our latest update:
+ Austin Etherington (Hamilton Heights): Twelve points in a 50-44 win over Western on Dec. 17 and 15 points in a 79-60 loss at Noblesville on Dec. 18.
+ Cody Zeller (Washington): Twenty-seven points, 20 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a 79-71 win at Evansville Bosse on Dec. 17 and in front of Indiana coach Tom Crean, scored 18 points and pulled down 19 rebounds in a 61-42 win over Sullivan on Dec. 18.
+ Michael Chandler (Lawrence North): Twenty-two points in a 70-53 win at Indianapolis Arlington on Dec. 17.