INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana came into this game shooting better than 51 percent as a team from the field, one of the best rates in the country. Early in the first half against Butler, however, the Hoosiers have been ice cold from the field, knocking down just 40 percent of their shots in the first 14 minutes and letting the Bulldogs build a lead. The Hoosiers righted the ship down the stretch and are now shooting 52 percent, but still trail 38-34 at the break.
Butler's defense played a large role in that subpar percentage, pressuring the ball and forcing Indiana's offense into the kind of outside shots this team Hoosiers team does not want to take. Indiana is 2 for 8 from beyond the arc, while Butler has made a living shooting from deep, knocking down five 3-pointers to open up a lead that reached as many as 11 points.
The Hoosiers lacked aggression on offense at times and only a stretch of seven straight points from Juwan Morgan midway through the half kept the deficit within manageable distance. Not only was Butler playing solid defense, packing the lane and daring Indiana to shoot, the Hoosiers were too often settling for outside shots rather than trying to force the issue. Morgan had 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the first half to keep the Hoosiers in it.
One player who usually forces the issue for Indiana is Romeo Langford, who, as I wrote before the game, came in leading the Big Ten in free throw attempts. The precocious guard was strangely silent in the first half, taking just one shot in the first 13 minutes and not scoring at all until 5:38 remained in the half. On a related note, the Hoosiers shot just five free throws in the half as Butler did a good job overall of defending without fouling.
Butler has been the more aggressive team on both ends of the court for most of the game, forcing nine turnovers and rolling up a 11-3 advantage in points off turnovers. Indiana turned up the pressure late in the first half and close the gap. It will need much more of that in the second half if it's going to escape with a win in this one. Butler has been the better team so far and it's playing with a lot of confidence.
Despite playing just a few hours from campus, this is a tough environment for the Hoosiers, with the crowd squarely behind Butler (leftover Purdue and Notre Dame fans from the early game seem to be in the Bulldogs' corner as well). It's not quite a true road game, but for these freshmen it's another chance to rise to the moment and make big plays when the circumstances are less than ideal. Morgan's dynamic performance in the first half bought his younger teammates time to get their feet under them. If Indiana's going to win this one, the senior forward will need some help in the second half.