Five takeaways from Indiana’s loss to Penn State

  • 02/03/2024 3:59 pm in

Indiana fell to Penn State in Bloomington for the first time since 2014 on Saturday afternoon. The Hoosiers were blown out, 85-71, and fell to 13-9 overall and 5-6 in the Big Ten.

Here are five takeaways from the loss to the Nittany Lions:

Penn State sinks Indiana with 3-point shooting

Indiana had been guarding the 3-point line well in Big Ten play entering Saturday’s game. In fact, the Hoosiers were first in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage defense through 10 league games.

But Saturday saw a complete system failure in slowing Penn State’s barrage from the perimeter. And the Nittany Lions aren’t known for their 3-point shooting.

Penn State hit 12 of its 22 attempts from distance, good for 54.5 percent.

Only a few of the makes in the first half were contested well, but once the Nittany Lions got in rhythm, it was like a snowball rolling downhill. There was no stopping them.

Jameel Brown hit four triples, as did Zach Hicks. Ace Baldwin Jr. splashed in three of his own, with D’Marco Dunn accounting for the other of the 12 3s for the Nittany Lions.

It was an inexcusable performance in the worst loss of the Woodson era

As Ryan Corazza pointed out in The Minute After, there’s an argument that Saturday’s loss was the worst of Woodson’s tenure in Bloomington.

More than halfway through year three of Woodson’s tenure, the Hoosiers fell to a team built almost exclusively through the transfer portal by first-year coach Mike Rhoades last spring. Rhoades is in the early stages of program building in University Park, but had no problem coming into Assembly Hall and winning in year one.

Woodson deserved praise – and got it – for guiding the program to the NCAA tournament in his first two seasons at the helm.

But it’s now February in his third season on the job and this Indiana team hasn’t shown any tangible improvement. Indiana isn’t even in the discussion for the NCAA tournament, and it has yet to establish a firm identity for how it wants to play.

Saturday’s loss wasn’t even close in a game Indiana should always expect to win. It was an inexcusable performance in year three at a program with enormous resources and expectations.

Indiana’s guard play continues to underwhelm

It’s no secret that Indiana’s guard play has been a weakness all season.

On Saturday, Penn State magnified the deficiencies with its pressure defense, ability to get past IU’s guard off the bounce and its 3-point shooting.

Xavier Johnson’s injury problems have certainly factored in, but entering the season with such little guard depth is a major reason for the team’s struggles.

Trey Galloway’s 3-point shooting has regressed significantly and isn’t capable of shouldering the load as a featured scorer regularly. Gabe Cupps is a freshman being asked to fill in for Johnson against some of the nation’s best guards. He was no match for Baldwin Jr., who had 22 points and eight assists.

Anthony Leal has shown flashes of capable play but went scoreless on Saturday after a strong game against Iowa. And CJ Gunn’s lack of development has been a disappointment.

As much as Woodson has focused on having a strong frontcourt, winning at a high level in college basketball requires elite guard play. And Indiana doesn’t have it.

Hoosiers incapable of stretching out a lead

Indiana built a double-figure lead on three occasions in the first half on Saturday afternoon.

The Hoosiers led 16-6 at the 13:08 mark, 26-16 at the 8:57 mark and 34-23 at the 5:15 mark of the first half.

But in a recurring theme this season, Indiana couldn’t build or maintain the lead. Each time the lead was built, Penn State came roaring back.

And Indiana had no answer once the Nittany Lions made their move early in the second half.

“Again, I’m not going to throw my guys under the bus,” Woodson said postgame. “They just didn’t perform the second half. They didn’t. They didn’t. They were flat as hell.”

While it’s true Indiana was “flat as hell” and “just didn’t perform” in the second half, it’s on Woodson and the coaching staff to help figure it out when adversity hits. And on Saturday, that didn’t happen.

The two-big lineup was the wrong recipe against Penn State

Rather than returning to the smaller lineups that had some success in recent games against a Penn State team attacking primarily from the perimeter, Indiana kept its two-big lineup on the floor on Saturday afternoon.

Woodson said postgame that Indiana messed up its switches defensively, which was a major reason for Penn State’s offensive barrage in the second half.

The Nittany Lions scored more than 1.7 points per possession over the final 20 minutes.

As much as the Hoosiers need Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau on the floor for offense, playing two bigs together – along with Mackenzie Mgbako – isn’t the answer defensively.

At this point in the season, there’s no expectation that Indiana will move away from going with the two-big lineup. But as the program moves forward, it needs to look hard at putting together a roster with less emphasis on post-play and more focus on offensive and defensive versatility.

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