Indiana’s chance at a statement win slipped through its fingers.
Sixteenth-ranked Purdue downed the Hoosiers, 69-64, at Assembly Hall on Thursday to send Indiana to its fourth loss in five games and keep the Hoosiers’ NCAA tournament chances in doubt.
The Hoosiers led for long stretches in the game but shot just 34.6 percent in the second half as Purdue overwhelmed them down the stretch. Indiana fell to 15-10 overall and 5-7 in the Big Ten with the loss.
The Boilermakers kept within striking distance of Big Ten-leading Wisconsin with the win, moving to 9-3 in the league (two games back of the Badgers) and 20-5 overall.
Here are the four things you need to know from the game:
1. Indiana is nearing the bubble brink: The Hoosiers entered the night squarely on the bubble and missed a golden opportunity Thursday to give themselves some breathing room. It’s all about opportunity cost for Indiana. This loss in and off itself isn’t particularly damaging as Purdue is awfully good and will be as so by the selection committee next month, though losing four of five certainly is problematic no matter who the Ls come against.
No, it hurts because what could have been. If Indiana tops Purdue, it gives the Hoosiers a major resume boost because not only do they simply need to start stacking wins, but because it’s a win that checks off multiple boxes as it would have came against a high-quality team.
Now, Indiana is looking at a schedule that has just one more such opportunity, and that comes on the road against these same Boilermakers, which hardly looks like a winnable game at this point. The task now for Indiana is to pile up wins against sometimes good but other times ‘meh’ competition, and the Hoosiers have to do it mostly on the road with four of their final six coming away from Bloomington. Beating Michigan and Northwestern at home looks to be a must with some combination on the road against Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio State trending in that direction as well.
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2. Caleb Swanigan can’t be stopped: I don’t know if Swanigan can make up the distance between himself and Frank Mason and Josh Hart in the player of the year race, but he’s doing his damnedest. The Purdue big man had 16 points (6 of 12 shooting), 14 rebounds, three assists and a block before fouling out (more on that later).
Swanigan has now gotten double-doubles in seven-consecutive games, and in an astounding 21 of 25 games this season. He’s an absolute monster.
He’s not as dynamic as those two aforementioned guards, and there’s debate on whether or not he’s even the Big Ten’s best big man with Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ a worthy choice, but it’s best to not lose sight of just how dominant Swanigan has been this season. He’s been elite in almost every phase of the game.
3. James Blackmon, Jr. had a tough return to the court: After missing the last four games with a leg injury, James Blackmon’s return to the lineup was not exactly a triumphant return. The junior went 3 of 14 from the field, including 1 of 7 from 3-point range. He did add three rebounds and four assists on the night, but all in all, in was tough sledding out there for him.
Indiana’s injury woes are well known at this point so getting Blackmon back, even if there’s some rust or continued limitations, is an important thing. He is their leading scorer after all, and they’ll absolutely need him hitting on all cylinders as they try to thread the needle through a small path to an NCAA tournament berth.
4. Half measures and double fouls are always lame: Mike Ehrmantraut once warned Walter White that half measures only lead to bigger problems down the road. It’s good advice, even if in that exact situation it was morally, shall we say, questionable, ut, generally, not a bad ethos to go by.
The officiating crew in Bloomington clearly aren’t ‘Breaking Bad’ viewers.
The stripes, apparently in disagreement, called a double-foul on Thomas Bryant and Swanigan with under 50 seconds left when one had a charge on Bryant and another a block on Swanigan.
Not only is that just a frustratingly fence-sitting call, but it fouled both players out of the game in the final minute of a five-point game. So two of the best big men in the Big Ten had to watch, and the rest of us didn’t get to see them close out a rivalry game.
Double-fouls almost always are cop-out calls that don’t serve much of a purpose other than for the referee to better his fouls-per-whistle ratio. A double-foul that results in a charge and a block on the same play is just lunacy. They’re mutually exclusive, and the whistle – and rulebook – should reflect that.