Indiana’s once promising season has gotten off track as it has struggled to close out games.
Two weeks removed from being in the top 10, the Hoosiers are coming off another disappointing road loss and might need a home win over Big Ten foe Iowa on Sunday night just to make sure they remain ranked.
Talk about Indiana’s resurgence, boosted by home wins over then-No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Ohio State, has quieted with losses in four of its last five games. The Hoosiers (16-5, 4-5) were as high as No. 7 in the AP poll earlier this month but dropped to 16th this week, and they’re already three losses behind the Big Ten leaders.
Two of the Hoosiers’ other three defeats this month were by a combined four points, including a blown 13-point lead in the second half at Nebraska on Jan. 18. On Thursday, Indiana took its final lead on Christian Watford’s 3-pointer with 5:39 remaining and went scoreless for the final two minutes.
“Very frustrating, especially when we preach 40 minutes and we only play 38,” guard Verdell Jones said.
Watford and Jones each had 12 points, but leading scorer Cody Zeller failed to reach double figures for just the third time all season as he was held to seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.
“We didn’t give (Zeller) the chance to post up like he’s used to,” coach Tom Crean said. “When we settled down we did a better job. Cody’s fine. Cody did a lot of really good things.”
The Hoosiers also might be looking for Victor Oladipo to re-assert himself offensively. The sophomore guard keyed Indiana’s strong start, averaging 12.2 points through December, but has averaged 5.9 in seven games this month after scoring two Thursday. Oladipo has had no more than six field-goal attempts in any contest during the team’s 1-4 slump, and that happened just three times during the 15-1 start.
Indiana has lost four straight against Iowa, which already has two wins over ranked Big Ten opponents this season, including one at Wisconsin.
However, the Hawkeyes (11-10, 3-5) have lost four of five. They led by as many as 11 points in the first half Thursday against Nebraska but gave up 48 after halftime in a 79-73 defeat.
“I think it was fairly typical of what we’ve been experiencing all year,” said coach Fran McCaffery, whose team allows a conference-worst average of 73.8 points in Big Ten games. “We couldn’t get a stop when we needed it. … It was disappointing because defensively tonight, that’s about as bad as you can play.”
Zach McCabe scored 20 points and Roy Devyn Marble added 15, but McCaffery continued to express frustration with starting forward Melsahn Basabe.
The sophomore has been limited to a combined 20 minutes over the past two games, scoring one point in each and not attempting one field goal. Basabe scored 13.3 per game in December but has seen his playing time cut this month as he’s averaged 3.5 points.
Iowa won its first two conference road games but has lost the last two. It won 64-63 in Bloomington on Feb. 5 behind Basabe’s 20 points.
Indiana’s Jordan Hulls scored 24 in that game but has been struggling, going 7 for 27 from beyond the arc over the past five games. He still leads the Big Ten in 3-point accuracy at 48.9 percent (46 for 94).