Oftentimes, in any profession, the difference between good and great is confidence.
After a Jordan Hulls three-pointer gave Indiana a 63-to-52 lead with just 6:48 left to play, the Hoosiers appeared to be in the drivers seat.
A silenced Bob Devaney Center saw Nebraska’s (9-9) confidence – and more importantly time – dwindling away and that Indiana (15-4) was a couple solid possessions from alleviating the burden of a two-game losing streak on the road.
From a traditional bottom-feeder of the Big 12 to the outcast of the Big Ten, Doc Sadler proved he did his homework on these up-and-coming Hoosiers. What better way to make a statement in a new league than knocking off its most prestigious and nationally renowned team? As history has shown, IU has often proven to not be able to keep its foot on the gas. Saddler knew his team needed to land just one punch to shift momentum – and control – back to the Cornhuskers.
When play resumed, the remaining 6:48 consisted of several Hoosier turnovers, bad shots and Cornhusker offensive rebounds which often led to second-chance points ad nauseam.
As the turnovers mounted IU’s lead dwindled to 65-63. After a Dylan Talley three-pointer, these Hoosiers were no longer the No. 11/13 team in the country, but a mirror image of the mentally weak team that won just eight Big Ten games, one on the road, in the previous three years. A team that often performed well early but struggled to protect leads late when their opponent fought back.
A team lacking a true leader.
And therein lies the problem. Players who have been followers forever don’t know when it’s time to lead. And with two months of basketball left to play, the Hoosiers have a collection of them.
If you were looking for senior leadership Wednesday night, it was nowhere to be found.
What about a true point-guard to slow down the tempo of the game and get a good look at the basket? You’re out of luck.
How about a player with NBA potential to demand the ball and win the game himself? He must not have made the trip.
Time and time again, Hoosier Nation has asked these same questions. Three years later they still have no answers, and find themselves in the midst of another mid-season meltdown.
Hindsight is 20/20 and yes, there are numerous reasons the Hoosiers could not get the job done Wednesday in Lincoln, many of which can be attributed to Nebraska’s solid play.
But at this point, nearly 20 games in, a sordid lack of these three factors – awareness, leadership and poise – is inexcusable.
Crean hit the nail on the head after the game, “Now, we just got a group of guys that have an edge, that have a desire, and we’ve got to make sure that we refocus them, that we reenergize them, and we do not let them get discouraged.”
But why was this not the rhetoric after a disappointing home loss to Minnesota last Thursday? Letdown games happen all the time. They’re engrained in the fabric of sports. Hoosier Nation knows best who the last team to run the gauntlet was. But it’s not how you act that should be the standard of measurement; it’s how you react. And to say that the Hoosiers have reacted poorly after a letdown game would be putting it politely. Yes, it was a tough schedule-break that a road game against the No. 5 ranked Buckeyes in Columbus had to follow, but to be shellacked by 21 in the first half? On national television? There was no sight of confidence from beating them just two weeks prior.
And then to follow it up with a second half meltdown against an inferior team? Still, it is not time to hit the panic button. The Hoosiers are 15-4 and are in the thick of the Big Ten. The possibility of a top seed in the Big Ten tournament is still very much alive. This team has proven what they are capable of and a three game skid is no reason to jump off the bandwagon. Indiana is still the # 1 three-point shooting team in the country and excellent at home, where they have 7-of-13 games remaining.
Last nights frenzied twitter panic proved only one thing: we’ve all failed to not be prisoners of the moment. Do not let a number – whether it be single or double digits – next to the name Indiana skew the reality that the core of this team had eight Big Ten wins to their name before this season. The Hoosiers are still a work in progress, as is every other team in college basketball to this point. It’s dangerous to get too high or too low on any team, especially when only one game counts in March, not three in January. Turbulence now will help steel everyone for later.
There are still 12 Big Ten games plus a nonconference game at Assembly Hall left to right the ship.