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Indiana basketball was lifeless until late run sparked major comeback win — but it doesn’t take away the overall performance

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No energy. No toughness. No purpose. Indiana basketball was lifeless until it used a late run to spark a comeback win vs Morehead State. (Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times-USA TODAY NETWORK)

After leading for the first 35 minutes against No. 2 Kansas on Saturday, it took Indiana basketball until the 3:14 mark of the second half to see its first lead against Morehead State on Tuesday night. Despite all of that, Indiana came away with a 69-68 *win* against the Eagles in what turned into a must win game for NCAA Tournament hopes — and that is no real overstatement based on the body of work through the first month of the season.

In what was a complete flip from Saturday, Indiana basketball came out on Tuesday with no energy, no toughness, no purpose and no life. It was about as lethargic a start as Indiana has had in quite some time — and there have been a few notable performances like that start under head coach Mike Woodson.

“I’ve been preaching all year, you can be beaten by any team. Doesn’t matter who they are, if you don’t come to play,” Woodson said postgame. “I thought at the start of the game we were flat, and like we didn’t even want to be out there.”

Coming into Tuesday’s matchup with Morehead State, there were a few keys; get out in transition to eliminate the Eagles’ good half court defense, get to the free throw line and see some additional backcourt success.

None of those three keys were checked off at halftime. Indiana was 3-of-9 on free throws, was down 3-0 in transition and saw Jordan Lathon of the Eagles outscore Indiana’s starting backcourt 15-8 by himself. All of that led to a 36-25 deficit in which IU trailed for 15:33.

“My thing is it should never be that way. When you’re playing this game of basketball, and especially when you’re playing here at home, you should never have highs and lows like that,” Woodson said of the difference in first halves from Saturday to Tuesday. “The Kansas game was a great game. I thought we did a lot of good things in that game, but we just fell short. That doesn’t mean you come back the next game and lay an egg to start the game. That’s unacceptable. That’s on me, man. I was very disappointed in how we played the first half. That should never be.

“It wasn’t real pretty. Based on how we were playing. We were awful … Our fans don’t come out to see stuff like that. I was very disappointed.”

“Could be a number of reasons. I really couldn’t tell you specifically, but it shouldn’t have happened,” IU senior forward Anthony Walker said postgame. “We know that, and we obviously grouped together and pulled together and pulled out with a win, but this is a good lesson for us. They’re a good team. They play hard. They’re well-coached. Just being able to come together when we did get punched in the face early in the game and finish the game is something that means a lot to us.”

Indiana showed signs of life to start the second half, cutting the lead to four about three minutes in — but it quickly got out of hand again, much like the first half. Indiana found itself down 50-39 and  then 64-49 at the 9:29 mark.

This Indiana basketball team had faced too many of these moments this season — with mixed results. It was able to pull out wins against lesser opponents, but caved in against teams like Auburn and UConn.

On Tuesday, Indiana battled, dug deep and found a way to creep back in.

“We picked it up when our backs were against the wall, and we made plays coming down the stretch that we had to make in order to win the game,” Woodson said. ” … At the end of the day, the guys made the plays that they needed to make to secure the win, and that’s what counts.”

“I always say momentum is a powerful force and that’s the beautiful part about this sport is once things start going well, everything starts going well. I think the most important part of their run is the fact that we didn’t stray away from each other,” Walker said. “We kind of stayed together, kept encouraging each other, kept playing Indiana basketball because mistakes is going to happen. Just being able to pull together in that moment and continue to play Indiana basketball, continue to trust Woody is something that we did, and we get to pull out the game.”

Walker was the spark — and he was also the one player that showed up from the tip. He provided a spark every second he was in the game. Walker scored eight points in the first two minutes he was in the game. He led Indiana all night with 18 points on 7-of-11 from the field and nine rebounds in 23 minutes.

Walker had 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting in 15 second-half minutes.

“We have to create our own energy, especially coming out the gate in the game, and this won’t be a problem all year, trust me. We will pick our energy up. This was definitely a lesson,” Walker said. “There is no lesser opponent in college basketball, so this is definitely a lesson, and we’ll be the boss of our own energy for the rest of the year. Trust me on that one.”

While this was a check in the win column, this was anything but a positive performance. Morehead State came in with losses to Alabama by 32, Purdue by 30 and Penn State by 23 throughout the early stages this year.

Indiana needed a 20-4 run over the final 8:47 to come away with a one-point win in a game it led for just 5:49.

The good thing? Getting right back at it on Thursday against North Alabama. It’s an easy way to respond and get this out of sight and out of mind.

SEE ALSO: Indiana basketball survives against Morehead State as Anthony Walker shines in the win

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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.

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