Indiana is running out of time and room for error – The Daily Hoosier

As Indiana’s basketball game at Penn State fell further and further out of reach, the season began to do the same.

No, it’s too early to say the season is entirely lost if it’s only January 11th. But after that 85-66 whooping cough at state college, the Hoosiers are running out of room for error and time to find answers.

And they know it.

“Our boys are a bit down at the moment and they should be. They took a slap in the face tonight,” said IU head coach Mike Woodson. “My thing is that we don’t compete at all. And that’s on me. I have to make us compete harder and stronger and we’re not doing that.”

Indiana is down to 10-6 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play. After starting 7-0, IU have lost six of their last nine games. And that loss is perhaps the most embarrassing of all. The lost lead in Iowa was bad, but that game at least showed some of IU’s best basketball performances of the season early on, and the Hoosiers had a chance at the end.

When Penn State (12-5, 3-3) broke away and extended their lead on Wednesday, IU didn’t stand a chance.

Indiana started the game with good performances at both ends and kept up with PSU for the first 10 minutes. But then the Nittany Lions caught fire. They shot 6-10 from a 3-point range in the final 10 minutes of the first half after going 3-7 in the first quarter of the game.

IU’s defense collapsed as Penn State went on the run. The Hoosiers gave up open shots left and right, whether it was because of too much help, missed assignments, or just because they got lost. The Nittany Lions are one of the top-grossing 3-point shooting teams in the Big Ten and nationwide, so IU knew they were going to pull the trigger.

Indiana at Penn State, Wednesday January 11, 2023. Photo by Garrett Ewald

And IU still couldn’t stop her from getting remarkably simple looks.

“We knew they were going to shoot at it,” junior Trey Galloway said. “We have to get up and contain the 3-point shot. I don’t dare them shoot it because they will. That’s what they did tonight.”

Penn State’s 3-point offense was poor. But it was Indiana’s way of reacting to it that took this night from just plain bad to awkward.

Indiana’s efforts failed.

Heads dropped in frustration with every extra 3-pointer pouring in. Errors at one end were carried over to the other. It went from Indiana, which couldn’t stop Penn State from across the arc, to Indiana, which couldn’t stop Penn State, period. The Nittany Lions shot 64 percent from the field in the second half.

Indiana looked like a team unable to retaliate.

“We talked about coming into play, we need to be mentally sharp and play hard,” Woodson said. “I just think if they get pushed around a bit, we kind of shrink and go the other way. And we can’t.”

And that’s at the heart of Indiana’s problems right now.

Yes, injuries keeping Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson on the sidelines and restricting Trayce Jackson-Davis in practice are affecting this team. But the biggest problem facing this team at the moment has nothing to do with physical health.

It is that this team looks like a mentally weak group of players. This is a team that finds ways to lose games instead of finding ways to win.

Johnson and Thompson leave a leadership void, but Indiana is full of upper classes. That should not be a problem. But it seems so, because with strong leadership, effort wouldn’t be a permanent problem.

“We can definitely play harder. I think that’s our identity, play hard, and I think we’re not doing that right now. We all. We can all do a little bit more,” Galloway said. “In the Big Ten, every game becomes challenging. We can’t just go into these games without being ready for a war, because they’re all wars.”

The only saving grace for Indiana after a night like this is that there are still many games left on the schedule. IU is a quarter of the way through the Big Ten board. There’s still time to turn things around.

But IU is running out of time. This group seems to lack the mental toughness to win a Big Ten road game. However, Indiana is often a different team at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

This isn’t like Indiana football, where the Hoosiers are so significantly less talented than the conference’s top teams that those games can essentially be booked as losses before the teams even step onto the field. This basketball team, as hard as it can be to watch at times, has a knack for keeping up with high-profile opponents.

But with every game that lets IU get away with it, there’s less room for error. Indiana would need to win at least one road game to finish .500 in the Big Ten, and there are still plenty of tough opponents on the schedule.

Sometimes, however, just one big win can change everything. IU’s game against Wisconsin on Saturday will shed some light. A Saturday afternoon game in Bloomington featuring a student section versus a ranked team at a critical moment for the Hoosiers.

If they can win this game, they may be able to save this season.

If Wisconsin does to Indiana what Penn State, Northwestern or Iowa did, it will be a bleak sign.

And if Indiana did to itself the same things that happened in those games, it could be a lost cause.

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