WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — No. 22 Indiana has had worse losses in terms of margin of defeat and quality of opponent, but its 83-67 loss to Purdue may have been it’s most deflating of the season. The defeat marks the Hoosiers’ first losing streak of the season and the loss came on their arch rivals’ home floor in Mackey Arena, where 14,123 Boilermaker fans made their hatred for Indiana well known with repeated “IU sucks!” chants Wednesday night.
Six days ago Indiana was tied for first place in the Big Ten, but back-to-back losses have dropped the Hoosiers into a three-way tie for fourth place as they’ve slowly slipped toward the middle of the pack in conference play.
Indiana never led in the game and the Hoosiers failed to cut Purdue’s lead to single digits in the second half.
Purdue had something — size — that Indiana can’t improve upon through coaching or scheme changes, and the Boilermakers exploited their advantage in the post. The Boilermakers deployed a pair of 7-footers, junior A.J. Hammons and freshman Isaac Haas, in their rotation and the Hoosiers had no answer for them.
Indiana coach Tom Crean said the bottom line in his team’s loss was that it wasn’t good enough in the paint.
Despite entering the game with a 3-1 record without junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who will be sidelined until mid-February with a knee injury, the new-look Hoosiers were out of sorts against Purdue.
Thanks to a career-high eight blocks, Hammons did his best to thwart Indiana’s efforts at attacking the paint, many of which were ill-advised.
“It defies description, some of the drives we made on A.J.,” Crean said. “We tried to drive too much and try to drive into traffic rather than just making the simple pass.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter echoed Crean’s sentiment in his postgame press conference, saying that he was surprised that a few of Indiana’s players challenged Hammons one-on-one. Painter said if the Hoosiers were going to challenge Hammons at the rim, they needed to try to dunk on him.
“You’ve got to move him around,” Painter said. “You move him around, you can attack him and get fouls and get him behind plays, but if he’s set and he’s there, it’s better — especially if you don’t have the size to against him — to kick it out.”
What made matters worse for the Hoosiers was their inability to convert on their 3-point attempts or to get out and run in transition — two staples of Indiana’s high-scoring offense. Indiana was a woeful 4-of-19 (21.1 percent) from behind the arc.
Crean blamed the Hoosiers’ lackluster offensive performance on a lack of simplicity. With this year’s Indiana team, he preaches making passes one dribble sooner than one dribble too late and his team fell in the latter category against Purdue.
“One reason we’ve been shooting at such a high percentage is that we simplify it,” he said. “If we just make a simple pass, get one more reversal, kick it one dribble earlier rather than one dribble late, driving the ball when we get into the paint and instead of trying to make a play on a shot-blocker like we’re in some backyard pickup game, just keep driving the ball and make the next pass. That’s how we play.”
When the Hoosiers started to build momentum, scoring on three consecutive possessions early in the second half, James Blackmon Jr. and Yogi Ferrell both missed wide-open 3-point attempts that could have cut Purdue’s lead to 12 had they gone in.
Ferrell, who scored 15 of his team-high 21 points in the second half, tried to bring Indiana back from a double-digit deficit but the Hoosiers lacked secondary scoring. Blackmon Jr. and sophomore forward Troy Williams were a combined 8-of-25 from the field for 21 points.
After the game, Ferrell was honest about what has held the team back during its two-game losing streak.
“We’ve just got to stop being soft, man,” he said. “I feel like when we go out there, we don’t play with any energy. We think it’s going to be easier than it is, especially guys who haven’t been here and played in the Big Ten. They think it’s easier than it is and now we’re just learning the hard way.”