After Indiana coach Archie Miller had been asked a final question postgame, he leaned back in his chair, away from the Zoom screen. His hands were over his head.
With a sigh, Miller conferred how truly difficult it was to lose Thursday’s 80-73 contest at No. 8 Wisconsin.
In double overtime.
“Give them credit, they made a lot of winning plays at the end, and we didn’t make enough winning plays at the end,” Miller said earlier in his press conference. “And that’s what it takes in this league. When you play the best teams in the country, which Wisconsin is, you have to find a way to step up and execute and make some tough plays.”
This was far removed from last year’s performance at Wisconsin, where the Hoosiers barely competed, failing to give IU a chance to win its first game in Madison since 1998. This time around, IU (7-5, 2-3 Big Ten) very much battled. Star big man Trayce Jackson-Davis paced the Hoosiers with 23 points and 12 rebounds, while veteran guards Al Durham and Rob Phinisee hit some big shots on their way to 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Even with a thinning bench, absent sophomore guard Armaan Franklin because of an ankle injury, the Hoosiers were able to muster 3-pointers from freshman Anthony Leal and slams from sophomore forward Jerome Hunter.
But still, it wasn’t enough. Wisconsin’s D’Mitrick Trice was an equalizer, hitting game-tying shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime. In the second extra period, Tyler Wahl hit back-to-back 3s to give the Badgers a seven-point lead, pulling away from a Hoosier team that was struggling to catch its breath.
Those were plays IU just couldn’t quite find, whether the Hoosiers were ahead by six with under six minutes remaining in regulation, or up by two with under 30 seconds left in the first overtime. As close as they were, it was all the more painful to fall short.
“We didn’t come up here to be close,’ Durham said. “We came here to win.”
That echoed a message Jackson-Davis gave after a win slipped away on the road in the non-conference season. At Florida State, the Hoosiers were on the cusp of beating a ranked team, but just didn’t. IU had another close one, a home loss to Northwestern, open Big Ten play. Little by little, the Hoosiers are watching their record degrade despite valiant efforts.
There are positives to take from this one, especially the performance of a freshman guard like Leal. Pressed into 35 minutes of court time – 16 more than his previous season-high – the Bloomington native finished off the first half with consecutive 3-point makes, which blunted a 14-0 Wisconsin run.
“He works his behind off,” Durham said of Leal. “When I tell you he works his behind off, I really mean it. When you look up hard worker, it’s him. I’m not surprised by what he did tonight.”
Down 29-24 at the break, Jackson-Davis came out in the second half firing on all cylinders. He made his first seven shots, including a drive through the lane and an emphatic one-handed flush with the left hand, plus a foul. The three-point play cut the deficit to 48-47. Jackson-Davis then kicked out to Hunter for a 3, giving IU its first lead since just before the midway point of the first half.
IU pushed the lead to 56-50, but Wisconsin (10-2, 4-1) went on a 7-0 run. IU’s intial answer came from Phinisee, who slid to the wing to take a 3-pointer off a Durham pass. It hit, giving IU a 59-57 lead, but with a minute left, Trice tied it back up with a pair of free throws. Jackson-Davis fed Hunter, again, this time for a two-handed slam. But Trice knotted it back up on the other end.
Then came Winning Play No. 1 that was missed, a shot from Jackson-Davis in the post that dribbled off the rim, leading to overtime.
Leal hit a 3 to start extra time, but it was answered by Badger veteran Brad Davison. Leal came up with another big play, this time defensively, cutting off Reuvers on a baseline drive and forcing a turnover. Hunter dunked on the other end, giving IU a 66-64 edge with 90 seconds left.
But then Trice buried a 3. Durham, driving to his right, was able to find a seam off a Jackson-Davis screen and converted for a three-point play with 26 seconds left, making it 69-67. But again, Trice hit a shot, a step-back jumper in Jackson-Davis’ face, tying it up.
Davison was able to tie up Durham on IU’s last possession with about a second left. It seemed as if Phinisee ran through Durham’s airspace on the play, crowding his teammate as he tried to handle the ball, forcing Durham into Davison for the tie-up.
“We called a play, and we didn’t execute,” Durham said. “That was the bottom line. We didn’t execute the play.”
In the second overtime, an IU team that was forced to the bench early — because of early foul trouble to Race Thompson and Jerome Hunter mainly — seemed to hit a wall. Jackson-Davis and Durham each ended up with 49 minutes played. Phinisee had 48.
Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl escaped for two consecutive 3s, pushing the Badgers’ lead to 77-70, and that was a decisive blow. Jackson-Davis didn’t take a shot in either overtime.
“Our guys in general, disappointed for them,” Miller said. “I have to do a better job for them. But we have another one, and a tough road swing, as we travel to Nebraska. We’re going to have to get ready for that one.”
Durham, clearly disappointed, echoed that sentiment.
“As you know, the Big Ten is a gauntlet,” Durham said. “So we gotta be on to the next game. We gotta get ready for Nebraska. We can’t dwell on the loss. We gotta get the next one.”