The nation’s most bipolar team displayed its ugly side once again Wednesday night.
Sixteenth-ranked Indiana showed up unprepared for its Big Ten opener and fell at home 87-83 to previously struggling Nebraska.
With less than 30 seconds to go and the Hoosiers trailing by two, James Blackmon attacked the basket and badly missed an uncontested layup that would have tied the game. Never again did Indiana get that close as Isaiah Roby and Glynn Watson closed out the game by combining to sink 7 of 8 foul shots.
The surprising outcome snapped Indiana’s 26-game home win streak and cemented the Hoosiers’ reputation as a team equally capable of seismic victories and head-scratching losses.
Indiana rocketed to No. 6 in the polls with a season-opening upset win over third-ranked Kansas. The Hoosiers then plummeted right back out of the top 10 a mere eight days later with a stunning loss at Fort Wayne.
Indiana reasserted itself as an elite team in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge with an impressive 76-67 victory over previously undefeated North Carolina. The Hoosiers now are in jeopardy of falling out of the Top 25 altogether less than a month later after losses to Butler and Nebraska.
What’s especially troubling about the Nebraska loss is that the cold-shooting Huskers (7-6) have not been very good so far this season. They dropped six of seven games from Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, five against top 40 teams and a disappointing home loss to Gardner-Webb.
But Nebraska was more motivated and more battle-tested than Indiana on Wednesday, and it showed in the way the Huskers contested shots, fought for rebounds and slid across the floor after loose balls. By the time Indiana matched Nebraska’s urgency in the second half, the Huskers were already convinced this is a game they could win.
It also didn’t help Indiana that its best player Wednesday night spent long stretches of the game saddled with foul trouble. Robert Johnson scored 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, but he only played 21 minutes after foolishly picking up his third foul with three minutes to go in the first half and his fourth less than two minutes into the second.
Indiana still might have found a way to win had it been more disciplined defensively or more precise on offense.
Nebraska has a dearth of weapons besides guards Glynn Watson and Tai Webster, yet Indiana’s shoddy defense allowed those two to erupt for a combined for 47 points. The Hoosiers’ shoddy point guard play again was an issue too as they committed 19 turnovers, took quick shots and struggled to get the ball in the hands of Thomas Bryant down the stretch with the game on the line.
The takeaway from such a mistake-prone performance is that Indiana has an unusually high ceiling and low floor this season.
When they’re engaged defensively and in rhythm offensively, the Hoosiers can beat anyone in the Big Ten. Heck, anyone in the country. But when they’re lackadaisical on defense and sloppy and turnover-prone on offense, they can get upset just as easily.
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