There were just too many mistakes. For long stretches, especially in the first half and late in the second, Indiana's offense was stagnant and turnover-prone. The Hoosiers (16-13, 9-8 Big Ten) gave the ball away 10 times in the second half and a season-high 19 times overall, leading to a 26 Nebraska points. Those are the types of mistakes that doom a road team, especially one playing in an environment like Pinnacle Bank Arena, where a crowd hoping to see an NCAA Tournament bid this season was engaged most of the night.
When the story of this season is written, this will probably be remembered as the "Justin Smith Game" as much as it will be for the turnovers. After two straight solid performances against Iowa and Illinois (14 points per game), Smith really arrived as a leading contributor Tuesday. The forward poured in 10 points in the second half in a losing effort, coming up big for the Hoosiers again and again. When Nebraska (21-9, 12-5) looked like it might put some distance between itself and the Hoosiers early in the second half, Smith kept his team in it with a pair of old-fashioned 3-point plays in the span of two minutes, both on strong moves at the rim. Archie Miller has been harping on Smith to be a better rebounder in recent weeks and he was a rock under the glass Tuesday.
Before the game, I wrote that the Hoosiers would need to make Nebraska a jump-shooting team in order to have an chance. They were successful in executing that game plan, forcing Nebraska into 22 3-point attempts. Predictably, the brick-laying Cornhuskers made only six of those attempts, including 2 for 7 combined from James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson, Nebraska's two top guards. The Hoosiers held their hosts to just 40 percent shooting overall, the fourth team in the last five games that they've held their opponents to 41 percent or lower.
Still, the turnovers and missed shots were too much to overcome on the road. Indiana shot just 3 for 13 from beyond the 3-point line itself, not taking advantage of the opportunities Nebraska afforded it. This game was there for the taking and Indiana led for much of the second half, but there were too many mistakes to overcome. This is the type of 50/50 game that, with a full year in Archie Miller's system and another year of experience for the young players, Indiana might have a better chance to win next season. As it stands, the Hoosiers have had several chances for a marquee win in the Big Ten, but have fallen short each time.
Special mention should be made of the play of Juwan Morgan. For the second straight game he was limited in the scoring column (relatively, he had 13 points), but he contributed in almost every other way. He grabbed nine rebounds, had a block and a steal and played with incredible effort on defense. Without even looking at the box score, any observer of this game would have known that Morgan left everything he had on the court tonight.
Player of the Game: Justin Smith
Smith is in the middle of a breakout stretch of basketball, and has now totaled 44 points in his last three games, including 16 tonight on 7-for-11 shooting. He also grabbed eight rebounds and made nearly every big shot early in the second half for the Hoosiers as they built the only lead they'd have all night. Five of his rebounds came on the offensive end, giving Indiana valuable second chances. Importantly, he only turned the ball over once.
Facts and Figures
Indiana's four game winning streak comes to an end. ... Devonte Green scored just two points after posting 18 against Iowa. Green still has not scored in double figures in consecutive games this season. ... Morgan came in fifth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage at 58.9 percent, and shot just 5 of 11 from the field tonight. ... Robert Johnson entered the game shooting 60 percent during IU's winning streak and scored 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting from the field. He added six rebounds. ... The Hoosiers were outrebounded by Nebraska, which came in as the worst rebounding team in the Big Ten, 39-33. ... Palmer led the Cornhuskers with 15 points.
The Hoosiers are back in action Friday for their regular season finale, taking on No. 17 Ohio State (23-7, 14-3) at Assembly Hall. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1. The Buckeyes defeated Indiana 71-56 in Columbus on Jan. 30, a game in which the Hoosiers fell behind 27-10 less than 12 minutes into the game. Freshman center Kaleb Wesson had 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting. Ohio State has lost two of three, but defeated Rutgers 79-52 Tuesday night.