BLOOMINGTON – Indiana has proven this season it can play with the best teams in the country. It hasn't proven yet it can beat those teams, though.
Three times this season the Hoosiers have welcomed a Top 5 team to Assembly Hall and all three times they have stayed close, but ultimately fallen short.
The pattern played out again Saturday as the Hoosiers hung with No. 5 Michigan State, but eventually dropped their fourth straight game, 63-60, after they shot a season-low 29 percent from the field as Indiana native Jaren Jackson Jr. blocked seven shots.
The Spartans (22-3, 10-2 Big Ten) led the entire second half, but Indiana closed the gap in the final minutes.
Juwan Morgan led the charge for IU with 19 points in the second half after struggling to get just four in the first 20 minutes. In the last two minutes, however, the Hoosiers' Freddie McSwain Jr. missed a pair of free throws with his team trailing by one, and Jackson Jr. got a key block in the final seconds. A Devonte Green half-court heave bounced off the back rim at the buzzer.
"Down the stretch, they just made a couple more winning basketball plays than us," Morgan said. "When it comes time for those plays, you just have to buckle down and do it."
Indiana (12-12, 5-8) remained within striking distance thanks to its work on the glass, particularly on the offensive end. With plenty of misses to work with, the Hoosiers outrebounded the Spartans 25-3 on the offensive boards.
"In East Lansing (when Michigan State outrebounded Indiana 45-27), they punked us," Morgan said. "In a few words, that's just what happened. We came with this mindset, I know me, Freddie (McSwain), Collin (Hartman), and Justin (Smith), we talked amongst each other like 'this can't happen.'"
McSwain, getting his first start of the season in place of freshman forward Justin Smith, grabbed nine offensive rebounds (a career-high 16 boards) and brought needed energy all night.
"Clearly the amount of minutes (McSwain's) played and how hard he played tonight, it's hard to duplicate 16 rebounds in a game like he (had)," IU coach Archie Miller said. "He gave great effort. It's a credit to him; he played very hard tonight."
For McSwain, the effort wasn't anything out of the ordinary.
"It wasn't really an accomplishment," McSwain said of his performance. "I'm just really going out every day and playing my hardest. Every time my opportunity is called, starting or coming off the bench, my mindset is just come in and help the team."
The Hoosiers fell behind early because it couldn't get many shots to fall. During a critical stretch in the first half, the Spartans went on a 13-2 run while Indiana missed 12 consecutive shots from the field. The Hoosiers' two leading scorers, Morgan and Robert Johnson, missed their first 12 shots combined. Indiana's two worst shooting nights of the season have both come against Michigan State, which leads the nation in opponent field goal percentage.
"Offensively (for us), (Michigan State) had plenty to do with the numbers," Miller said. "Their shot-blocking and their size really made it hard on us and clearly we weren't able to dial it up from three again (Indiana was 4 for 19 from beyond the arc)."
Jackson had plenty to do with the Hoosiers' shooting woes, as he blocked six shots in the first half alone. The freshman used his huge wingspan to bother nearly every shot Indiana took near the rim, and added 10 points for the Spartans.
"He's really good," Miller said of the freshman from Carmel. "I don't think he just emerged tonight and said, 'look at me.' He's been doing it all year. He's a dominant defensive player. ... He just clears up everything. Every drive, every mistake you make, he's there."