If you believe a team’s season can be defined by a single game, then Indiana’s matchup against Ohio State might be the perfect example.
In a year full of disappointments, Indiana’s first game in the B1G Tournament might take the blue ribbon. It’s not simply because the Hoosiers fell short with a chance to add an important win to its flawed NCAA Tournament resumé. No, it was the lack of urgency and performance that was most discouraging in Chicago on Thursday afternoon.
The final score will show that Indiana battled to the bitter end, and that fact can’t really be disputed. After trailing by 20 points, the Hoosiers scratched and clawed their way back to a 77-75 deficit with five seconds to play.
A pair of C.J. Jackson free throws sealed the deal for the Buckeyes, winning 79-75 to advance to the quarterfinals where Michigan State awaits.
But imagine Indiana’s season broken down into those 40 minutes at the United Center. It’s almost too fitting in how the Hoosiers’ season came to a screeching halt on Thursday.
Indiana entered the game with momentum and confidence, having won its last four games, including victories over Wisconsin and Michigan State. It was comparable to the start of the season, when Romeo Langford, Justin Smith, Robert Phinisee and Juwan Morgan were expected to take the B1G by storm and immediately challenge for a conference title and a spot in the Final Four.
Though the Hoosiers’ didn’t quite look as good in the first half against Ohio State as they did in the first 14 games of the season — opening the year 12-2 — there was some hope that IU could advance to Friday and get a chance to get its third win against Michigan State this year.
And then came the second half and an ugly 12-minute stretch that saw the Buckeyes take a seven-point lead and build it into a 20-point difference. During that run, IU played as poorly as it had at any point during the season.
Those 12 minutes resembled the middle of the year in Bloomington — that seven-week period when the Hoosiers dropped 12 of 13 contests, which included losses to Nebraska, Northwestern and Rutgers.
Nobody looked interested or invested. The name on the front of the jersey seemed to have little relevance. Frustration reached an unprecedented high.
How appropriate that Indiana’s worst stretch against Ohio State last 12 minutes?
With under eight minutes left, the Hoosiers made one final surge. Devontae Green and Evan Fitzner buried a couple of big shots down the stretch to stay alive until the final seconds. Fans at the United Center, and back home in Bloomington, were holding their breath, hoping for a miracle.
Sounds like those final four games of the season and Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes, right?
In the end, it was too little too late for Indiana, both in Thursday’s loss to Ohio State and in the NCAA Tournament picture. A game, and a year that start with so much hope, ended with pure disappointment.
Because there’s such a weak bubble this year, Indiana can’t actually be removed from the tournament picture. Those six Quad 1 wins are still appealing to the selection committee, even if it’s accompanied by 15 losses — several of which were inexcusable for a team with this caliber of talent.
Disappointment has been a theme for Indiana’s season. It happened during that seven-week stretch that reached from January to February. It extended to the B1G Tournament. Now, the Hoosiers are looking at hosting an NIT game rather than making a Final Four push.
To say Indiana didn’t play to its potential or meet expectations is a severe understatement. That applies for the entirety of the season and Thursday’s loss to Ohio State.