After carrying a perfect non-conference record, Indiana was greeted to a rude awakening in its Big Ten opener.
Getting back on track could prove difficult with Ohio State coming to town.
Hoping to rebound from their first defeat, the No. 13 Hoosiers look to avoid a seventh consecutive loss to the second-ranked Buckeyes on Saturday.
Aside from a 73-72 win over then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10, Indiana (12-1, 0-1) posted 11 double-digit wins during its 12-0 start. Coach Tom Crean’s team, though, failed to carry over any momentum into Wednesday’s 80-65 loss at No. 16 Michigan State.
The Hoosiers, whose 50.5 field-goal percentage ranks among the top 10 in the country, shot 42.2 percent from the floor versus the Spartans and had a season-low nine free throws, making just five. Indiana entered Wednesday averaging 28.0 attempts from the foul line.
“When you have a young team and the bullets start flying, you’ve got to be ready,” said Crean, whose team allowed more than 75 points for the first time this season. “It was a very physical game. And we didn’t get to the foul line enough. But I still believe we can be pretty good.
“It’s just an absolute learning process, this league is, this time of year is. Our guys are learning all year long inside the games, and I have no reason to believe they won’t continue learn … we’ve got to go home and make corrections.”
While getting back to Assembly Hall should help, the Hoosiers are sure to be in for another difficult test against the Buckeyes (13-1, 1-0). Ohio State has outscored Indiana by an average of 19.5 points during its six-game run in the series, including three double-digit victories in Bloomington.
The Buckeyes’ lone defeat came 78-67 at then-No. 13 Kansas on Dec. 10 with Jared Sullinger sidelined, but they have been mostly dominant with their preseason All-American on the court. In the 12 games he’s played, Ohio State has won 10 of them by at least 14 points.
Sullinger posted his seventh double-double with 17 points and a season-best 14 rebounds during Wednesday’s 87-54 rout of Northwestern.
“He’s the best big man in the country. When he draws so much attention it makes it so much easier on us,” said senior William Buford, who scored a career-high 28 points while going 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
Sullinger is all but certain to be matched up against Hoosiers standout freshman Cody Zeller, who is coming off a forgettable performance Wednesday. The 6-foot-11 center was averaging 15.1 points but scored a season-low four on 2-of-5 shooting and had trouble getting position down low against a physical Spartans team.
“He’s not used to dealing with people that have that kind of size,” Crean said. “I’d like to see if he could be more aggressive when he gets the ball, I think that he will. I thought he did a lot of good things, he created a lot of attention, there’s no question about that.
“He’ll learn from it.”
While Zeller failed to get much going, forward Christian Watford continued his tremendous play with a season-high 26 points and 10 rebounds. Watford has posted two 20-10 efforts in as many games and is averaging 17.6 points over his last five, during which he’s gone 13 of 21 (61.9 percent) from beyond the arc.
Derek Elston (broken nose) returned Wednesday after missing a game, but top reserve Will Sheehey (leg) sat out a second consecutive contest. Sheehey, averaging 10.7 points, is uncertain to suit up in this one.
Ohio State went 7-2 on the road in conference play last season, with the losses coming to ranked Wisconsin and Purdue teams. Buford and Sullinger combined for 43 points in last season’s road win over Indiana.