BLOOMINGTON — As if losing 13 of its last 14 games hasn’t been bad enough for Indiana, its coach and fans, four of the Hoosiers’ last five defeats have been downright disheartening.
Sandwiched around a 21-point, not-even-that-close loss at Minnesota on Feb. 16 were home setbacks of five and three points to Iowa and Ohio State, respectively, which preceded last week’s two-point home loss to archrival Purdue followed by Friday night’s six-point overtime setback at Iowa.
“We continue to play at a very high level in terms of our effort,” second-year IU coach Archie Miller, who has tried to stay positive in his post-game press conferences, said after that latest loss. “I feel bad for them. Everybody does at this time of year. You’re trying to scrap and claw for everything you can, we just came up short.”
It’s become an all-too-familiar story for the Hoosiers (13-14, 4-12), who’ll try to put what’s been an otherwise forgettable 2019 (they are 2-12 in the new year) behind them tonight when they host No. 19 Wisconsin (19-8, 11-5). The game is scheduled to tipoff at 9 p.m. (ESPN) at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The Badgers, who are fifth (2.5 games behind Michigan) in the Big Ten standings, have won five in a row against Indiana. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers are tied with Penn State (11-16, 4-12) for 12th in the league, barely ahead of Northwestern (12-15, 3-13), and have lost five in a row since their surprising overtime win at Michigan State on Feb. 2.
Tonight, IU looks to bounce back from Friday’s OT loss at Iowa in which it held the lead for much of the second half. The Hoosiers, who had five players in double figures, shot 41.3 percent (26 for 63) from the field, but were just 6 of 27 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range and 12 of 22 from the free throw line.
“Offense wasn’t the problem,” Miller said. “We missed 10 free throws. We had two breakaway layups, one came up empty and one got fouled — that’s four points right there. One turned into a five-point swing. When you get the opportunities in, and around, the basket you’ve got to knock them in.
“Twelve of 22 on the line in a one-possession game, you wish you have some of those back.”
Miller would like to have some of the defensive intensity his team exhibited at times against Iowa and Purdue back against Wisconsin.
“I thought we took the perimeter away at the beginning of the game,” he said following Friday’s loss. “I thought our on-ball defense was, just in general, as good, if not even better than it was Tuesday [against Purdue]. Our guards, to their credit, are doing a pretty good job of staying up under guys and at least making things hard.”
The Hoosiers held the Hawkeyes to 28 percent shooting from long range. However, junior guard Jordan Bohannon went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in OT.
“Defensively, especially through the first 40 minutes, we were really dialed in again on the perimeter,” Miller said. “They’re a tough task because you’ve got to deal with both things. I thought we, at least, took away the 3-point line. [But] they missed some that they probably make on a normal basis.”
The Hoosiers will need more of that vs. the Badgers, who lead the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage (38.6) and rank third in field goal percentage (46.5). They are led by 6-foot-10 senior forward Ethan Happ (17.7 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.7 apg), 6-0 sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice (12.6 ppg) and 6-3 sophomore guard Brad Davison (11.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg). Davison scored 16 in Saturday night’s 69-64 win at Northwestern.
Things don’t get any easier for Indiana, which will host sixth-ranked Michigan State at noon Saturday.