D I R J F S T?
26 + 11 + 3 = 6
26 minutes of the most uninspired play I've ever seen in Assembly Hall
11 minutes of the most promising Hoosier run of the Crean era
3 minute of WTF
The 6, we'll get to that a little later on. Let's start from the beginning.
Fortuitously, we decided to have some drinks before the game. Otherwise, the 6 minute and 17 second draught that started the game would've left us all undressing ourselves in disdain, but probably less profanity laced. By the time Watford was finally able to sink IU's first bucket, the Hoosiers had posted 10 TOs, 5 missed shots, 4 fouls, and 15 points allowed. At the 10-minute mark, IU was on pace to put up 16 points on the night, and I was on pace to be asked to leave Assembly Hall by halftime.
The first 26 minutes of the game provided an unwelcomed reminder of how woefully ineffective our young squad can be and how eager they can be to get a jumpstart on Christmas vacation. On the one year anniversary of last season's reality check against Northeastern, IU once again demonstrated how a semester's worth of lessons can be quickly forgotten after finals have ended.
And no sooner than the Ghost of Christmas Past had visited me with a a reminder of how we only won one game after the solstice last season, the next 11 minutes proved to be the most inspired run ever seen in the Crean-era. Once Patsos decided to take the air out of the ball to protect his 20-pt. lead, the Hoosiers finally decided to bring it and took the game over. Playing with pride, determination, and guts, IU battled their way back into the game with stifling defensive pressure and relentless offensive attacks. During this stretch, the Hoosiers outscored Loyola 27-5, forced 7 TOs, and pulled down 13 boards, while committing only 5 fouls.
And right about the time I was ready to start dancing a Christmas miracle comeback jig, the wheels just fell off. The final 211 ticks saw IU score only 2 points, while missing 5 FGs, turning the ball over 3 times, and committing 4 fouls. The dagger in most Hoosiers' hearts, however, is without question Jeremiah Rivers' 4 consecutive misses from the free throw line. Having largely driven the Hoosiers' comeback effort, the leader of our young team inexplicably left his teammates hanging as he clanked shot after shot off the rim. Crean was correct in stating in his post-game presser that the comeback wouldn't have happened without Rivers, but the loss probably wouldn't have happened either if he steps up and knocks down the freebies in the clutch. There is no way to qualify how critical his first two misses were, as IU clung to a 2-point lead with about 2 minutes to go.
All this brings us back to that mysterious 6 which we began with. After watching the rollercoaster that was IU's December schedule, it has become clear that the Hoosiers' greatest obstacle may well be the 6 inches between their own ears. Without taking this variable into account, it is impossible to reconcile how this team can stay stride for stride with Kentucky for 20 minutes and lay a 4-point egg in the first 10 minutes against Loyola. There's no doubt this year's team is exponentially more talented and athletic than last year's, but it can be truly frightening to see how many similarities there can be when young, inexperienced players fail to properly focus their talents & efforts into the particular challenges of each game. Whatever it is that determines whether we see the 1st half Kentucky Hoosiers or the 1st half Loyola Hoosiers, it's squarely contained within the 6" between the Hoosiers' ears.
While their improved speed, athleticism, and strength may differientiate them from last year's historically horrible season, Tom Crean summized it best after the game, "that's a fragile group of guys in there." Indeed, Coach Crean, indeed.