Each time a post bucket from Trayce Jackson-Davis fell through the net, Indiana coach Archie Miller found himself in the same position.
Miller was on a knee, yelling, urging the Hoosiers on as they went back to the defensive end of the floor.
But down the stretch of Saturday’s 78-71 loss to Michigan State at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, it seemed that every few seconds spent on a knee were followed by the same gesticulations. After the Spartans scored another easy bucket, a disgruntled Miller was back on his feet, waving the Hoosiers back to the offensive end.
In the second half, Aaron Henry attacked the basket. Marcus Bingham Jr. dunked two-handed. Gabe Brown swished another 3. And down on the Hoosiers’ sideline, Miller was waving the Hoosiers back his way, wanting his team to somehow seize back momentum in a game they were letting slip away.
“I look at the second half as being a complete bust on defense,” Miller said postgame.
In a game where Jackson-Davis scored a career-high 34 points, aided by frontcourt mate Race Thompson’s 15, the Hoosiers (12-10, 7-8 Big Ten) were unable to get the defensive stops necessary to capitalize on their offensive dominance in the post. Instead, Michigan State shot nearly 57% in the second half, producing 29 points in the final nine minutes and change.
It was a bust in many ways. The Hoosiers wasted an 11-of-18 performance from Jackson-Davis, who, after a series of slow starts in Big Ten play, has played well from start to finish in back-to-back games. They also wasted an opportunity to ease their path to the NCAA tournament by sweeping this week’s homestand, falling to a team ranked No. 90 in the NET, just before a difficult four-game stretch to cap the season. Three of the next four are on the road.
It’s off to face a resurgent Rutgers team. Then home versus frontrunning Michigan. Then trips to Michigan State and Purdue to end it. All the while, the Hoosiers will remain squarely on the tournament bubble.
Not to mention, the Spartans (11-9, 5-9) very much gave IU a chance to seize this one early. In the first half, Michigan State turned it over 10 times, including nine in just over 11 minutes to start. But through that stretch, the Hoosiers’ largest lead was 19-6.
By the 2:52 mark in the first half, the Spartans had it locked up at 26-all. While the Hoosiers were able to hold onto a 30-26 edge heading into the locker room, they went in with just three makes in their last 15 shots of the half. IU was just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc at the break, and the Hoosiers finished 4-of-19.
Sophomore guard Armaan Franklin made three of those 3s, finishing with 13 points. Jerome Hunter made the other 3-pointer, early in the first half. But that was it from IU’s shooters.
“We let Michigan State continue to build confidence throughout the game as they hung around,” Miller said. “They got good players and a good team. Like everybody, they’ve had their own journey. … We didn’t control either end in the second half, and it’s a hard one to take.”
In the second half, IU was able to stretch the lead out to nine points twice, including 48-39 with just under 13 minutes remaining. But the Spartans caught the Hoosiers again – and this time, the Spartans blew right by them.
Joshua Langford singlehandedly took a 50-44 deficit and tied it at 52-all with a jumper, a 3-pointer, and a three-point play. Henry scored, and Brown hit a 3, and it was suddenly a 57-52 lead for MSU with under eight minutes to go.
Jackson-Davis immediately answered, hitting a post bucket through contact. After the score, the 6-foot-9 sophomore grabbed the ball with one hand and slapped it with the other, wanting that play to give the Hoosiers an emotional lift. But after his and-1 free throw cut it to a three-point game, the Spartans went on a 10-1 run.
Rocket Watts buried a 3, Bingham Jr. slammed on a break, and Henry scored the other five. The 6-6 junior from Indianapolis got to the line for a pair of free throws, as well as a three-point play.
“Aaron Henry’s a tough matchup. They isolated him a lot in the post, or they iso-ed him just on the perimeter. We didn’t have a good matchup for him,” Miller said. “They spread us on ball screens at times and our coverages weren’t there. And again, Michigan State’s really good on the glass and they’re very good in transition.”
IU just didn’t have the outside shooting to balance the efforts of Jackson-Davis and Thompson on the inside. Aside from an 18-of-29 shooting performance from IU’s forwards, the rest of the team shot 7-of-28, or 25%, from the floor.
Rob Phinisee and Al Durham were a combined 0-of-10.
“They didn’t have an answer for him,” Miller said of Jackson-Davis, “so we played inside-out. When the ball came out, especially in the first half, we missed some open ones.”
Michigan State, on the other hand, didn’t just get a team-high 27 points from Henry. The Spartans won the bench-point battle by a margin of 34-5. Brown, who hit three of his four 3s in the final dozen minutes, finished with 14 points. Bingham Jr. was 4-of-5 from the field for his eight points. Watts added six.
The difference in the two benches may have been most stark as the Spartans pulled away. Every made shot fed the green gang on the sideline, as they were jumping up and down, screaming. Miller just waved his Hoosiers back to the offensive end.
IU just didn’t have the offense to respond.
“I thought our second-half offense, really, after about the first five minutes, was bad,” Miller said. “We had seven turnovers in the second half. All seven of them were tough, bad plays. Took momentum and spirit away from ourselves.
“I’ll say the second part of the second half was bad on both ends. We just didn’t play well.”