By CHRIS GOFF
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Part of the reason the Hoosiers have failed to play consistent basketball this season has been their inability to stay out of their own way, whether with poor ball security, lineups that yo-yo back and forth, missing secondary help assignments or lapses in focus and technique. As coach Tom Crean solemnly put it after Saturday’s 54-47 loss to Northwestern, “We have a long way to go.”
The Hoosiers shot 25 percent on Saturday afternoon, their worst performance since shooting 24.2 percent against Kentucky on Dec. 20, 2003. More upsetting to Crean was that his players did not handle the success of beating Wisconsin, a night in which students rushed the floor. He saw in practice that youngsters were not exactly locked in.
The Hoosiers didn’t reach double figures until Noah Vonleh knocked down two free throws to make it 17-10 with 2:59 remaining in the first half. There was a span during the middle of the game in which they outscored Northwestern 30-18, but things quickly snowballed from there, dealing Indiana a home loss to the team with the Big Ten’s worst record.
“It’s a very big disappointment,” Stanford Robinson said. “We took a step back, so we have to take a couple steps forward just to catch up to where we were.”
Asked what tipped him off to his team’s coming problems and how they could look so stagnant, Crean said, “Lack of focus, inconsistencies. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last time.”
The Hoosiers only committed nine turnovers, matching a season low set in that victory over the third-ranked Badgers, so they appear to have chased the turnover bug, which nearly nipped their season in the bud. But other major issues are cropping up.
Why can’t this team put it all together?
“I mean, we come out to play every game in a different mindset,” senior Will Sheehey said. “It’s disappointing. Obviously we want to come out and win every game.”
A youthful team with the potential to play very well or to underperform may continue to give fans a lot of uncertainly for the immediate future.
The indefinite benching of Jeremy Hollowell, a starter for 14 games and someone whose maturity remains a question mark, is another potentially aggravating factor.
DEMPS PUT A DENT: Tre Demps finished with 15 points, accounting for 13 straight Northwestern points during a stretch of nearly six minutes when the Hoosiers scored only four points of their own. Demps made the key shot with 2:25 remaining. Yogi Ferrell was unable to deny Demps when he drove, and a lack of backside rotation allowed Demps the sliver of space to bank home the pivotal layup that made it 45-40. Asked about Demps’ outburst, a glum Ferrell said, “Basically he hit some tough shots on us.” Disagreed Crean: “One of those shots was really tough. The other ones were more straight-line. That’s the defense.”
UP FOR GRABS: Crean told the school’s radio network in a postgame interview that he is wrestling with how to divide playing time at most spots on the team, presumably at shooting guard, each forward position and every backup slot. “I’m glad I did play so many guys in the (nonconference) because at least it’s not the first time that they get in there,” Crean said. “The guys that are in the games are the guys that are earning it in practice. Unfortunately, we don’t have an abundance of earning it throughout the game once we’re in the game. We’ve got to have much better play on both ends of the court.” Jeff Howard and Jonny Marlin, afterthoughts in fall camp, are clearly among those competing for Crean’s attention and a larger role. Although neither scored, Howard played 14 minutes and Marlin 8.
NOT READY: The Hoosiers scored a season-low 19 first-half points and trailed by as many as nine late in the period. As poorly as they played the first 16 minutes of the game, the last 24 weren’t all that bad in comparison. Were the Hoosiers just not ready to play at the start? “I guess we thought the same things that were in the Wisconsin game were going to be there in the Northwestern game today,” Robinson said. “There were, but it just didn’t happen as early. We tried to force it instead of just letting it happen. I just think we came out and played. I don’t think we thought the game today.”
Follow Chris Goff on Twitter: chrisgoff_ISL.