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It was another dreadful home loss as self-inflicted mistakes continue to haunt Indiana basketball



Indiana basketball
The Indiana basketball program suffered its second-straight home loss as self-inflicted miscues keep rearing its ugly head. (Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana basketball came into Sunday’s game against Northwestern with eight days of rest and looking to avoid back-to-back home losses for just the second time in Mike Woodson’s IU tenure. But, the same theme popped up for the Hoosiers as it was lack of energy, toughness and pride that led to a 76-72 loss.

Indiana trailed for 34:38 of game time and were down by double-digits for seemed like the majority of the afternoon. And, a large reason for that was an inability to make winning plays, something that has plagued this Indiana basketball team all season long.

“I thought the 50/50 balls they beat us to tonight and we played smaller,” Woodson said postgame. ” … we have to utilize our strengths when we’re on the floor being big, but didn’t help us tonight.”

Northwestern came into Sunday’s game ranked 290th in offensive rebound percentage, averaging just 8.4 offensive rebounds per game and 6.9 per game in league contests. Indiana gave up 14 offensive rebounds, the second-most for the Wildcats this season. Those 14 offensive rebounds resulted in 12 second chance points.

Despite shooting just 35.4 percent from the floor, 12 more shot attempts were a huge reason for the Wildcats win.

Matthew Nicholson and Nick Martinelli were dominant all night for Northwestern. They came into Sunday averaging 13 points per game combined in Big Ten play. They combined for 27 points and added 29 rebounds. They both had double-doubles, the first for each player this year.

Despite 16 rebounds and four blocks for Kel’el Ware, no other Indiana basketball player had more than five rebounds. Only two players had more than three rebounds. Nicholson had seven offensive rebounds by himself.

“You got to box out more and crack down on the big when I go to like block a shot,” Ware said postgame. “Just got to work on rebounding more.”

Nine of those 14 offensive rebounds for Northwestern came after halftime and were a huge reason for Indiana’s ability to stay within striking distance for most of the second half.

And slowly those second and third chances on a single possession wore Indiana down with Northwestern stretching the lead to as many as 16 with 6:17 left.

“It’s always good to come out beginning of the game with energy,” Ware said. “I feel like we lacked it a little bit, but we dug ourselves too deep of a hole in the second half to come back, which we tried to do.”

As Indiana has for most of the season, it slowly claws its way back from a massive second-half deficit. But whether it was its inability to rebound the ball, make open shots or get key stops, Indiana’s lack of mental toughness continues to rear its ugly head.

Northwestern’s defense ranked 331st in foul rate this year while Indiana basketball ranked 20th. So, getting to the foul line was not going to be the issue — it was whether or not it would be able to convert, something the Hoosiers have struggled with all year.

Indiana ranked 331st in free throw percentage, shooting just 66.4 percent as a team on the season. Sunday was the seventh time this year shooting below 60 percent from the foul line. It was 12-of-21. Northwestern was 22-of-28.

“Not making free throws,” Woodson said. “A close game when you are scraping and scraping you got to make free throws, man, and we were 9-for-22 I think. What was it? 12-for-21. So that’s just not good in close games.”

“I think it just all comes down to confidence and just the mentality approaching the line with. I think it’s much more mental than physical,” Gabe Cupps said. “We get the reps in all week and have been throughout the season. We just got to step up and knock them down with confidence.”

Offensive rebounds and free throw shooting were two of the biggest issues that held Indiana back. But, things always come in threes. The final category that the Hoosiers struggled in was turnovers — on both ends. While Northwestern isn’t a team that turns the ball over, it’s an area of its defense that hinges on high risk-reward. On Sunday, it was reward for the Wildcats, outscoring IU 11-0 in points off turnovers. Indiana finished with 11 turnovers and Northwestern had just three.

Three areas that typically require more effort and mental toughness than skill; rebounding, free throw shooting and turnovers. Three areas Indiana has struggled in all season. And, 25 games into the season they are still there and holding the Hoosiers back.

“We just got to keep working, man,” Woodson said. “It’s frustrating because I thought we played well enough once we got back into it. The free throws bit us in the butt.”

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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.