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Defense used to be the calling card for Indiana basketball. Now, it’s anything but — and Saturday’s loss to Penn State showed that



Indiana basketball
The defensive performance that Indiana basketball put on in Saturday's loss to Penn State was one of its worst of the season. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It was another winnable game that Indiana basketball watched fall to the wayside in a 85-71 loss to Penn State on Saturday. The reason why? Defense — or a lack thereof.

In the nearly three years under head coach Mike Woodson, defense has been Indiana’s calling card. But this season, the inconsistencies on that end of the floor have been one of the core reasons for the extreme up-and-down play for the Hoosiers.

But, Saturday may have hit a new low. Penn State came into Assembly Hall and was the more aggressive, tougher, smarter and active team. It was a four-point lead entering the half for Indiana that quickly turned into a double-digit deficit for the majority of the second half.

The Nittany Lions used a quick 12-2 run out of halftime in the first 5:37 that changed the entirety of the game.

“I just thought tonight the second half we were so flat coming out, something I hadn’t seen,” Woodson said postgame. “I look at the first possession of the second half they got three four cracks at it. we couldn’t come up with the rebounds or loose balls. It’s like we were a step slow. It’s disappointing because you play a good game against Iowa and come back and lay an egg.”

“We came out in the second half and had a four point lead,” Indiana basketball senior guard Trey Galloway said postgame. “We come out and it’s the same thing — just not playing hard enough and smart enough on the defensive end. A lot of unnecessary fouling and miscues. That’s on us. We just can’t have that at this point in the season.”

Whether it was 3s, at the rim, in transition — Penn State scored at will with very little resistance from Indiana. In the second half alone, the Nittany Lions scored on 75 percent of their possessions en route to 1.714 points per possession.

It even hit a high of 1.918 points per possession at one point.

“When teams go on runs you have to find ways to come together and get stops,” Galloway said. “They were hitting some tough shots but if you give them confidence early, they are going to get in a flow. So just us coming together, all five guys on the court coming together as one and we just didn’t do that tonight.”

They scored on 11 of its first 13 possessions after halftime.

For the game, Penn State finished at 1.466 points per possession and scored on 63.8 percent of its possessions. It shot 57.4 percent from the field and had just six turnovers.

“We’ve had our ups and downs with that there’s no doubt about that,” Woodson said of sluggish second half starts. “Again, I look at the points. We give up 85 points. You aint going to beat anyone in the Big Ten doing that. That’s just not us.

“I thought tonight, we were flat and just didn’t have anything going in the second half. They dictated everything from the very beginning.”

Penn State entered Saturday shooting 30.5 percent from three — 306th nationally — and had shot above 35 percent on 3s in just five games. It finished 12-of-22 against Indiana. This is now the ninth team that has made 10+ 3s against the Hoosiers and the eighth team to shoot at least 37 percent.

Penn State’s 12 3s tied its season high.

“I thought defensively, our switching and recognizing they were running a lot of what we call go screens,” Woodson said. “We just didn’t handle them correctly. We weren’t up to touch tonight. It was just — I thought we had good intentions when we started the game but it just kinda wore away.

“We just didn’t switch correctly, we didn’t do a lot of things that got us the lead early. They didn’t do anything differently. We just gotta be better over a 40-minute ball game.”

“To shoot that well, obviously we aren’t making an impact on them enough. They had a lot of open shots and that goes back to our miscues and things we weren’t doing like talking enough,” Galloway added. ” … being confident in what we’re doing. Coach gives us the game plan we have to follow it and do it. The miscommunications come from us being hesitant but we have to break out of the shell and talk to each other and find ways to get stops. And it’s all of us, not just one guy. It was all five guys on the court tonight and it showed.”

Indiana has already given up at least 80 points seven times this season. It did so eight times last year and just six times in Woodson’s first season — two of which being in overtime.

After Saturday’s loss, Indiana has now fallen to eighth in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency, eighth in percentage of points from 3s, 10th in opponent offensive rebound rate and 11th in three point rate.

“They were just playing harder than us and it’s hard to get a flow on offense when you can’t get stops,” Galloway said. “Our offense comes when we get stops and going out to run and if we aren’t getting stops we aren’t going to be in a flow on offense and it’s going to spiral and make an impact on offense when we — when we’re bad on defense.”

Indiana basketball now faces reality — an NCAA Tournament berth is clearly behind them. There is very little chance to receive an at-large bid. Can things change? Absolutely. But with the way this team is playing and the inconsistencies from half to half like Saturday, it’s not something that is likely at this point.

“I want more fire out of my guys,” Woodson said. “They didn’t fight tonight the second half and that’s disappointing. We have to go back and work and see if we can work our way back because that’s a game that I thought if we played well we had a legitimate chance to win … we just had too much slippage in the second half.”

SEE ALSO: ‘I want more fire out of my guys’: Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson reacts to Penn State loss

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.