December 1, 2009

Defensive lapses doom Hoosiers, 80-68

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge has continued to be a bugaboo for Indiana.

In its first true road game of the season, the Maryland Terps (5-2) used its senior leadership and clutch free throw shooting down the stretch to prove too much for the Hoosiers, 80-68. The loss drops Indiana to 3-4 on the season and leaves head coach Tom Crean one victory shy of career win No. 200. For the challenge, it drops IU to an overall record of 3-6.

"We did not defend nearly well enough to win," Crean said. "It's disappointing because it was a very winnable game. Maybe I shouldn't come in and say that two years in with all of these freshmen and sophomores that we have. But it was a winnable game and we did not pressure the ball well enough, we did not play physical enough and we did not play tough enough on the defensive end."

Even with the defensive struggles, the Hoosiers set the tone quickly despite an early injury scare, when junior point guard Jeremiah Rivers performed an acrobatic lay-in just one minute into the contest. While the reverse shot went in, the Georgetown transfer was stepped on by teammate Christian Watford as he landed on the floor. He left the game briefly with lower back spasms.

With the injury, Crean was forced to go to his bench, relying on freshman point guard Jordan Hulls to carry the load early. The Bloomington native answered the call, connecting on a deep three-pointer and dishing out a couple of nice passes before Rivers returned later in the half. The junior's return sparked an 8-1 run that gave Indiana its largest lead of the game, 28-21, with six minutes remaining in the half.

However missed opportunities underneath the basket again plagued the young Hoosiers. Indiana had consecutive possessions below the basket off of offensive rebounds and loose balls, but failed to capitalize in the paint. Maryland point guard Greivis Vasquez took advantage of IU's sudden offensive cold streak and nailed a three-pointer to bring the Terps back within four, 31-27.

After seeing his normally reliable full court press being broken on numerous possessions by Indiana's speed, Maryland head coach Gary Williams decided to switch to a 1-2-2 zone with roughly eight minutes remaining in the opening frame. The defensive switch wreaked havoc on an already-struggling IU offense, as the Hoosiers managed to hit just two of their next 14 shot attempts. Still, Indiana limped into the half trailing just two, 80-68.

In the second half, though, Maryland did what they have done all season long-outscore their opponents in the game's final 20 minutes. Behind the leadership of three seniors, the Terps controlled the pace of the game, not falling into the trap of Indiana's up-tempo style. They methodically broke down IU's defense on a curl move in the post, leading to wide-open lay-ups and a +20 point differential (38-18) in the paint.

"We expect more out of our team defensively with the amount of time we spent in practice," Crean said. "We spent a lot of time on defending-all the different drills, all the different segments, all the different scrimmages and all those different things. We just didn't balance that out today as well as we should have."

For the game, Maryland shot 47 percent, including 56.5 percent in the second half. It was a different story for the Hoosiers, who managed to shoot 33 percent for the game. Despite the low percentage, Indiana was led by Big Ten freshman scoring leader Maurice Creek's team-high 19 points. Watford was the only other Hoosier in double figures with 16.

But the game was sealed late in the second half by the UM free throw shooting by, who sank 19-of-24 in the closing frame, including 13-of-14 by Vasquez. The senior finished with 23 points and eight assists for the game and led Maryland to its fifth straight win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Despite the high energy from the Hoosier faithful, Crean nearly took the PA announcer Chuck Crabb's microphone late in the second half following vulgarities shouted from select IU fans toward the Maryland team. After being calmed by two referees, Crean returned to his team's huddle, but pleaded his case with the Indiana fans following the game.

"We can cheer against the other team, but we never use vulgarities against an opponent," Crean said. "That is not what happened at Indiana in the past and it certainly is not going to happen under my watch. But I love our fans. I loved the energy they brought tonight. We did not match the energy of our fans, but at no point in time will vulgarities in that crowd ever be accepted."

Indiana continues its difficult three-game stretch on Dec. 8, when the Hoosiers travel to Madison Square Garden in New York to take on Pittsburgh at 9:00 p.m. as part of the Jimmy V Classic.

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