There are no words. We’ll try, but that kind of loss makes you speechless.
After almost 24 years and eighteen straight losses, the Hoosiers looked poised to end their Kohl Center drought. IU led by 22 in the first half and 17 at the break. Somehow, they found a way to lose. No. 22 Wisconsin (8-1, 1-0 B1G) chipped away at, then overtook, the Hoosiers (7-2, 1-1 B1G), winning 64-59.
Mike Woodson kept the starting lineup as Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Miller Kopp, Race Thompson, and Trayce Jackson-Davis got the nod once again. That’s been the opening combination in all nine games for IU thus far.
After back-to-back bad starts, against Syracuse and Nebraska, the Hoosiers held the advantage at the first media timeout. Wisconsin did score the game’s first five points, but IU gained firm control of the game immediately.
The Hoosiers’ offense caught fire, knocking down six straight shots, 9-of-10, 13-of-16, and 17-of-24. Seven Hoosiers, all five starters as well as Tamar Bate and Jordan Geronimo, converted field goals in the first half, and when you looked up at the scoreboard, Indiana led 42-20.
That’s right. Indiana led 42-20, as five-point underdogs, in Madison, where they hadn’t won since 1998.
Geronimo’s play, in particular, stood out. His physical ability seemed on another level against the Badgers, as he skied in the air to grab rebounds, block a shot, even attempt an ambitious dunk that resulted in him hitting the deck. His teammates shared that aggressive mindset before halftime.
Johnson was a key contributor in all aspects for the Hoosiers before the break. He recorded seven points, five rebounds, and six assists in the first 20 minutes. Jackson-Davis had six points and four rebounds. Thompson had eight and three, respectively, of his own.
After halftime, Indiana never regained the sharpness they showed earlier in the game. Meanwhile, Wisconsin found the necessary adjustments to work themselves back into the game.
Emerging Big Ten star Johnny Davis, who led the Badgers with 11 first-half points, scored six more early in the second. Senior Brad Davison hit a three. When Jordan Davis, Johnny’s twin brother, drained a three with 13:24 to go in the game, Wisconsin was within nine points. They had trailed by double digits for the previous 19 minutes in the game.
As great as Johnson was in the first half, he was equally, if not more, ineffective in the second. He missed nine of his ten attempted field goals after the break, scored just three points, and turned it over twice. Much of Hoosier Nation will look back on his two missed free throws with 4:19 left, when IU was clinging to a five-point lead, as a missed opportunity for IU to reclaim its footing.
When Johnny Davis nailed a three with 1:14 left, Wisconsin took its first lead since they were up 5-2 in the game’s infancy. Davis finished a remarkable night with 23 points, nine rebounds, 8-of-17 from the field, and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
Speaking of free throws, it wasn’t just Johnson who displayed difficulties converting from the charity stripe. IU made just six of their 13 attempts, including just three of nine in the disastrous second half. Jackson-Davis split a pair, Geronimo did the same, and Phinisee missed an “and-one” free throw.
Any hopes Indiana had of putting themselves back in front practically ended when IU missed on all four chances attempted on a single possession in the final minute. The sharpshooter Stewart took, and missed, Indiana’s last three field goals. Johnson also missed the front end of a one-and-one. Those two developments were a fitting conclusion to a devastating defeat.
Fortunately for Indiana, Big Ten play takes a break until January 2. IU’s next opponent is the Merrimack Warriors, who come to Assembly Hall at 4-6. Merrimack comes in as No. 259 in KenPom, and they play one of the slowest tempos in the nation.
Photo by Associated Press / Andy Manis