BLOOMINGTON, Ind.- Northwestern (12-3, 3-1) isn’t known for its offensive skills, but the Wildcats opened Sunday’s game against Indiana by scoring in five of their first seven possessions. At halftime, the Wildcats had 41 points on the scoreboard while Indiana’s string of poor defensive performances continued. In the last three halves of basketball, Indiana allowed 44, 41, and 51 points, respectively.
Indiana (10-5, 1-3) made a late attack and Trey Galloway made a half field shot at the buzzer but Northwestern won 84-83.
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“I thought to come down early tonight, we had problems early on,” the Indiana head coach said Mike Woodson. “Now I might have to tweak the line-up again. I thought [Jordan] Geronimo, I thought he would take us there as a junior and the fact that he made it. No way I blame Geronimo but we had such a slow start, 17 except for such a good team – they play well. I don’t take anything away from them. They played a damn good game.
“We came down early and it was a dogfight trying to come back and we never got to come back.”
For the Hoosiers, it was a repeat of defensive performance from the last three big games – Arizona, Kansas and Iowa. The allowed points per possession in these games were 1.28, 1.11 and 1.2. Today, Indiana awarded 1.14 points per possession to a team that ranked 252nd on Sunday’s adjusted offensive performance on BartTorvik.com. That was last in the Big Ten, but Indiana’s defense made Northwestern look like the 2016 Golden State Warriors.
Woodson referred to the serious injuries as the main reason for the defensive struggles.
“Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson sitting on the sidelines, and X’s been out for a while now anchoring to guard the ball that’s coming to the ground and doing a lot of pretty good things for us defensively,” Woodson said. “That’s why we’re struggling defensively. We have two starters sitting on the sidelines and I’m trying to figure out who’s going to replace that.
Johnson and Thompson have been solid defenders over the past two years. However, the defensive problems were there when both players were healthy. Even in the preparatory games there are misunderstandings and mental mistakes. This has continued up to this point.
“Well, you have to keep practicing, and we have to keep working,” Woodson said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for the Indiana Hoosiers, and yes, we have some important guys who are on the bench, not in uniform, but we have other guys in uniform who need to get promoted to play.”
Trayce Jackson Davis once again filled the stat sheet with 18 points, 24 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks, but the senior leader wasn’t happy with the team’s defensive performance.
“I think we have to stop fouling, of course,” Jackson-Davis said of the defensive problems. “We gave up about seven, eight fouls in the first ten minutes and then they shoot bonus the rest of the way and I also think we’re going straight a lot and that requires the guys to get out of position and get help , and there’s open threesomes up, and they get wide open looks, and they knock them down.
“I think fouling and then, to be honest, going straight is the biggest thing for us.”
Jackson-Davis also spoke about players needing to execute the plan that the coaches set out.
“I just think sometimes we get almost confused when we don’t play our type of defense,” Jackson-Davis said. “As with the straight-line drives, we’ve been given nail help and sometimes the nail man isn’t there and we just don’t go to our coverages. The coach had a great game plan and I honestly don’t think we followed it at all. We didn’t change when we had to change and those are mental mistakes.
“If you don’t listen to your coaches it’s going to really hurt you because obviously they got every shot they wanted.”
Some of the straight-ahead driving comes from the lineup construction. In the last two games, Indiana faced teams that often had four or, in Iowa’s case, five guards in lineups. That forces Jordan Geronimo or Malik Renau defending smaller, faster players, which has yet to work well for both players.
The inability to contain drivers prompted Woodson to play a zone defense. It was probably Indiana’s first time playing under Woodson Zone, which is something new for his entire career.
“We played a lot of Zone, more Zone than I’ve ever played as a coach,” Woodson said. “We picked up, and we hit the two-two-one and fell back to a two-three. So yeah, I’m trying to change it up a bit. But still no apologies. We gave up 80 points tonight and you’re not going to beat many teams in the Big Ten if you give up 80 points.”
Freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino posted a season/career-high in points with 33 points in his fourth straight game. That was the most points by an Indiana freshman since Eric Gordon scored 33 in his collegiate debut against Chattanooga.
Woodson pointed to the effort at all stages as a problem for the Hoosiers.
“It’s not rocket science; You have to work harder,” Woodson said. “You have to work harder. I think they’ve outplayed us in the last two games; Even though you just said it, I think we got off to a great start in Iowa and we didn’t follow through because they outplayed us in the second half.
“I mean, it’s something we need to keep working on. It won’t – no one will just hand you your winnings. We must achieve a victory. We gotta go to Penn State now and see what we’re made of.
“Play harder, everything. Both sides of the ball. It’s my job to get them to play harder. That could solve a lot of problems if you have problems.”