You can hear it in his voice. He shook his head and looked down. Then he glanced over his shoulder, nodding at the door leading into Indiana’s dressing room.
“We’re hurt there,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said after Indiana’s 112-110 double loss to Syracuse on Tuesday night.
It’s a game that’s both frustrating and thrilling. Somehow, Indiana probably won and lost by 20 points. Regardless, there’s a lot to unpack after a game like this. The Hoosiers skipped 26 jarring spins, which Syracuse turned into 33 points. The first half was arguably Indiana’s worst 20 minutes of the season, in which they picked up 16 points after halftime.
However, when evaluating a team, it is important to consider both tangible and intangible characteristics. Obviously Indiana needs to work a lot with the tangible. But Tuesday reinforced something that had become clear through Indiana’s first seven games.
They care. They fight. They have guts.
This is not to say that recent Indiana teams are devoid of passion. But there were different times last year when Indiana fell apart in the face of adversity. On the road against Rutgers, Indiana let a double-digit lead compound fall to an embarrassing loss. At home to Michigan State, a double-digit lead turned into a crisis in the second half. At the end of the season, Indiana seemed stuck in the inevitable losing wheel.
This season, while not ideal, is still early enough that Indiana’s tangible problems are still fixable. However, what is more difficult to create are invisible things. A system that players buy into. A trainer that the player wants to fight. A relationship between teammates means playing on the floor.
On Tuesday, even in defeat and in a hostile environment, Indiana proved itself to have all those promising traits.
“They didn’t give up,” said Indiana head coach Mike Woodson.
Take, for example, the various moments in the game where Indiana refuses to back down.
• After a 16-point gap in the first half, Indiana took the lead in the 10th minute of the second half.
• Dropping 11 points with 3:44 remaining in the second half, Indiana ran a 4-point deficit with less than a minute remaining.
• Indiana has dropped three and four seconds in regulation. But Hoosiers perfectly executed the final scene to force overtime. Khristian Lander made it 1 to 1. He then missed the second on purpose and Jackson-Davis was fouled in the save. He beat two free throws with less than a second left to make it to extra time.
• Down four points in the second overtime, Lander knocks out a 3-pointer to turn it into a one-point game.
• Down by three to seven seconds in extra time, Miller Kopp fouled three and calmly knocked out all the free throws to end the game.
“This team has been fighting since I got together,” Woodson said. “It’s a great group of people who like to compete.”
Of course, it’s impossible to ignore how Indiana dug itself into that massive deficit in the first place. In the first half, Indiana looked lost. The Hoosiers rotated it around the wing but were largely unable to penetrate Syracuse’s area. Indiana shot only 35% from the field and 25% from three, and also made 13 passes, many of which were the result of careless mistakes. Defensively, Indiana fell. They could not hold the ball, leading to players giving too much support and openings on the flanks. Syracuse shot 58% from the field and 50% from three in the first half.
“I think we were so brilliant in the first half, we were scared on the face of it,” Woodson said. “I hate using that word.”
In the second half, however, Indiana hit back. Parker Stewart finished with 20 points on 6/12 shots from three. Miller Kopp has 28 points out of 4/9 from three. Jackson-Davis scored 31 points and 16 rebounds. Attacked, Indiana played more fiercely. Defensively, they play with more intensity. Hoosiers complete the match shooting 55% from the field and 40% from three.
However, they were unable to overcome the mistakes. Revenue, which has become a recurring problem, has increased. The Hoosiers have now earned 15 or more spins in five of their seven games. Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart and Rob Phinisee were all fouled. Indiana’s bench played ineffectively for the second straight game, scoring just 10 points. At the end of the first extra time, Indiana couldn’t even have a shot that had a chance of winning. At the end of the second extra time, Lander fouled Joseph Girard, resulting in the winning free throw.
During those times, however, Indiana has shown its resilience. Kopp and Race Thompson are diving on the floor. Jackson-Davis, who went out after bumping his knee with a Syracuse player, was back and was flexing on the floor after one and one. At one point, the referee had to stop the game to ask the players on the Indiana bench to sit down.
It is entirely possible to get out of the game with this many negatives. Syracuse had just entered the night of March 3. And sure enough, Indiana will have to figure out its sloppy play when the Big Ten plays out. But Indiana also showed the unquantifiable on Tuesday. If maintained, the value of the qualities will not be fully realized until the path is far away.
“Everybody in there is a fighter,” Jackson-Davis said. “And we’re not going down unless we’re swinging.”
https://www.insidethehall.com/2021/12/01/indiana-revealed-its-promising-intangible-qualities-despite-loss-to-syracuse/ Indiana reveals its promising invisible qualities, despite losing to Syracuse – Inside the Hall