Indiana dropped to 4-5 in Big Ten home games with a 78-71 loss to Michigan State on Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. After leading by as many as 13 in the first half, the Hoosiers collapsed defensively in the second half.
The loss dropped Indiana to 12-10 overall and 7-8 in Big Ten play with four regular-season games to go, three of which are on the road. Here are five takeaways from the loss to the Spartans:
• In Big Ten play, Indiana’s defense has been a weakness rather than a strength: In late February, there’s enough data to draw statistical conclusions from a team’s performance.
Indiana has played 15 league games and despite ranking 33rd nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, the Hoosiers are one of the four worst defensive teams in the Big Ten in conference games. After surrendering 78 points to Michigan State, which entered the game with the Big Ten’s 13th best offense in conference play, the Hoosiers are now ranked 11th in points per possession allowed against league foes at 1.061.
With the exception of Rob Phinisee, Indiana’s defensive play from its perimeter players has been underwhelming for most of the conference season. On Saturday, its weaknesses were exploited as Aaron Henry erupted for 27 points and Joshua Langford and Gabe Brown added 14 points each. This was the same Michigan State team that just put up 58 points in a 30-point home loss to Iowa less than 10 days ago.
When Archie Miller took the Indiana job in the spring of 2017, he preached a tough-minded, defense-first approach as the backbone of the culture he would bring to Bloomington. In year four, his inability to get this group to carry out his objectives defensively may lead to another NCAA tournament whiff for the Hoosiers.
• A brilliant performance from Trayce Jackson-Davis is for naught: Trayce Jackson-Davis is putting together an All-Big Ten caliber season as a sophomore.
On Saturday, Jackson-Davis exploded for a career-high 34 points as Michigan State chose to guard him straight up in the post. Jackson-Davis was 11-of-18 from the field, 12-of-16 from the free throw line and also had nine rebounds in 37 minutes.
Unfortunately for Jackson-Davis, Indiana’s inability to surround him with consistent offensive production continues to linger as an issue. When the Hoosiers are balanced and get contributions from all of their core players, the results are typically good. But on Saturday, only Race Thompson (15 points) and Armaan Franklin (13 points) joined Jackson-Davis in double figures.
• Offensive production from Phinisee and Durham Jr. continues to seesaw: Indiana’s win over Minnesota featured productive offensive performances from junior Rob Phinisee and senior Al Durham Jr.
On Saturday, however, the duo failed to produce. Phinisee didn’t score in 30 minutes and Durham finished with only four points. That led to a postgame question for Miller about the inconsistencies of his upperclassmen.
“Al and Rob play a big role for us,” Miller said. “Those two guys, they work at it. Today wasn’t their day. Came back at it here in the next few and be ready to go at it, those are the type of guys that they are. There is no question that no getting much out of those guys from the perimeter today hurt the team.”
At this point in the season, Indiana just has to hope it gets more of the Minnesota-type performances from Phinisee and Durham than Michigan State like efforts the rest of the way.
• There’s no homecourt advantage for Indiana in a pandemic: Indiana’s homecourt advantage had already been softened in recent seasons under Miller as the Hoosiers lost six home games in his first season, five in his second season and four last season.
The number of home losses this season has now reached five as Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers, Illinois and Michigan State now own wins this season at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
In a typical season, Assembly Hall’s atmosphere is worth a few wins just from the energy it brings. But with only a few hundred folks in the stands this season, Indiana has been tasked with creating its own energy to win games. It hasn’t happened with enough frequency and being unable to protect homecourt has put the program in the position of needing road wins in the final two weeks to make the tournament.
• One step forward, two steps back: Indiana’s position in the middle of the pack of the league standings has come, in large part, because it has not built any sustained momentum all season.
The Hoosiers had won three of four entering Saturday and had a chance to get above .500 play in conference play for the first time all season. And Indiana came out of the gate and raced to a 19-6 lead as Michigan State looked hapless and ready to call it an afternoon.
But Indiana started settling too much offensively and got complacent defensively rather than continuing to play with urgency. The bad stretch over the final 10-plus minutes of the first half carried over into the second half as Indiana was torched for 1.49 points per possession after intermission. Rather than capitalizing on an early lead and seizing an opportunity to just about to clinch an NCAA tournament bid, Indiana took more steps back in a critical game that it needed to win at home.
“As the half went on there was just too many errors, either very timely or costly turnovers or defensively, just some break downs,” Miller said. “Whether it was transition rebounding or guarding the ball screen. I think we let Michigan State continue to build confidence throughout the game and as they hung around.”