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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press photos Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice puts up a shot against James Blackmon Jr. during the first half Tuesday in Bloomington. The Hoosiers came up short after opening the game down 13-0.

  • Indiana’s OG Anunoby scored nine points in the Hoosiers’ loss to Wisconsin.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017 3:34 am

Comeback comes up short for IU

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – When asked how Indiana can escape a 2-4 nosedive, Juwan Morgan paused a few seconds to digest that slump before answering.

"The fight has to be better," said the sophomore, a faraway look in his eye more revealing.

The No. 25 Hoosiers pulled a pair of disappearing acts Tuesday night – one at the start, another down the stretch of their 75-68 setback to No. 13 Wisconsin.

You know things are bad when even the happy-go-lucky Morgan looks drained by it all.

This was a second straight measuring-stick game for an IU team that has relished and thrived on those types of games, whether in the opener against No. 3 Kansas or Nov. 30 vs. No. 14 North Carolina.

But take away those two wins, and the Hoosiers (10-5, 0-2 Big Ten) are 0-4 against major-conference opponents.

Indiana was supposed to be doing big things this year after returning James Blackmon Jr. and Thomas Bryant and with OG Anunoby making a leap.

This is far from the kind of success this group expected.

"Times like these you find out who’s with you," Morgan said. "It’s not just one player or coach. It’s all of Indiana’s fault. It’s the whole team."

The whole team came out flat, spotting Wisconsin (13-2, 2-0) a 13-0 lead as Assembly Hall’s seats were still filling.

IU’s first six possessions were scoreless, four of them ending in turnovers, while Wisconsin scored on its initial five trips, three of ’em ending with Bronson Koenig (17 points) nailing open 3-pointers.

"I don’t even know what to tell you about the start of the game," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "Absolutely made no sense to me we were giving as much space as we gave."

Indiana recovered quickly.

But the problem in the long run was the Badgers controlled the pace. Slowing the game to a crawl, they force fed the ball to Ethan Happ (19 points, six boards) and slammed the door.

"The times we were able to make runs, we were able to get really good looks," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "We weren’t terrific defensively."

Neither side was. Indiana shot 53 percent, the Badgers 50 percent, on a night that had five ties, eight lead changes.

Down 38-37 at halftime, IU found a new focal point in the second half in backup center De’Ron Davis, who had 12 points and outplayed starter Thomas Bryant (six points).

"I was being strong in the post, carving out space and attacking the basket," said Davis, a 6-foot-10 freshman.

It was 54-54 after a 3-pointer by Robert Johnson with 9:12 remaining. But Happ replied with a basket, and when he found Zak Showalter for a 3 with 41/2 minutes left, Wisconsin had gone up 66-59 and forced Crean to call time.

It proved too deep a hole.

Morgan had 12 points and seven rebounds, while Johnson also scored 12. Blackmon had 10 points, all in the first half.

In Indiana’s three-game losing streak, Blackmon has 32 points. He tried only two shots in the second half Tuesday.

In fact, in uncharacteristic fashion, the Hoosiers launched a mere five 3s after halftime.

"We could get what we wanted inside," Crean said. "They were taking away the 3s. So it wasn’t by design."

This slump wasn’t part of the plan, either, but Indiana has three more days to figure it out before Illinois visits.

"They’re resilient," Crean said. "The hard work, character of those kids, I have no issue with it. We have a long season."

Notes: IU reserve Devonte Green (ankle) sat out a second straight game. … Anunoby had nine points, six rebounds.

cgoff@jg.net