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There’s no moral victory. Indiana basketball had the winning formula but failed to make the ‘plays coming down the stretch’



Indiana basketball
Indiana basketball had opportunities to come away with a momentum-changing win Saturday but didn't make the 'plays coming down the stretch'. (Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Indiana basketball spent the last eight days between games ‘soul-searching’. And, despite a much more ‘promising’ effort, the result was the same in a 70-62 loss to No. 10 Illinois on Saturday afternoon.Indiana (12-8, 4-5) has now lost three in a row and five of its last seven games. It’s just 2-5 in January.”Listen, I’m about winning, man. I want to win at all costs,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “But again, when you go through a Purdue game like we played, and Wisconsin when we played in spurts, I thought we were solid all the way through (against Illinois). We just didn’t make the plays coming down the stretch, so that’s promising.”

Indiana led for the first 15:46 of the game before squandering an eight-point lead and going into halftime down four. Then, like it has done throughout this season, a quick run to come out of the half gave Indiana a seven point lead at the 12:43 mark. It was 49-42 after a 15-2 run.

This run felt different, however. Indiana didn’t need to exert all of its energy just to get back into the game. It was a game that Indiana had theoretically controlled for most of those first 28 minutes. Indiana held all of the momentum on the road against a top-10 team — a game that could ultimately change the outcome of the season.

But, would Indiana be able to close this game out? The thought of many, as this game script seemed all too similar to many in the past.

Illinois would answer — as expected — going on a 15-3 run of its own to take a five-point lead with 5:43 left. Then, Malik Reneau — who had a game-high 21 points — fouled out at the 3:01 mark.

Indiana dug deep, knowing these final three minutes would could very much determine their postseason hopes. After a few buckets from Anthony Walker and Mackenzie Mgbako, it was a tie game with 1:29 remaining.

It’s a 1:29 that will haunt this specific Indiana basketball team as it was held scoreless the rest of the way in, giving way to an 8-0 closing run for the Illini. Why? Because Indiana couldn’t do the little things and make winning plays.

“I mean, close games on the road anywhere, you got to make free throws. We were 12-for-22. So that was not good for our ballclub, and we missed them at critical times when we needed them,” Woodson said. ” … But when you’re on the road, you gotta do almost everything right to come out with the win.”

Indiana’s inability to hit free throws continues to hold them back in close games or when trying to make or stop runs. In the last 11 games Indiana is shooting 61.5 percent from the foul line. Opponents are shooting 72.5 percent and making four more per game.

In the 2-5 stretch in January, however, Indiana slipped to 60.5 percent while opponents are making seven more free throws per game and converting at 73.6 percent.

If you aren’t going to convert from the foul line, a place Indiana was at 22 times on Saturday, it needs to find other ways to create offense. Going 0-of-9 from three certainly didn’t help the winning formula. Indiana took just two 3s in the first half and saw two of its nine 3s come in the last 30 seconds of the game.

Indiana was outscored 21-0 on 3s. It marked the sixth time this year in which Indiana has been outscored by 20+ points on 3s.

“We had a week to prepare. I thought they followed the game plan tonight,” Woodson said. “… it’s a fine line in winning on the road, man. You got to do almost everything right, like make your free throws, don’t go 0-for-9 shooting with the 3-point ball. We had good looks, we just didn’t make them.”

While the effort and game plan were all good enough to win on Saturday, there are no moral victories. Not on January 27.

Saturday shows that this team is still not able to get out of its own way in key moments in games. There are not many games left on the calendar that bring the type of resume-building potential as Saturday did.

“It’s tough. it’s just tough knowing that we tried our best. We had a lot of effort but we have to learn from it and move on to the next game,” Indiana basketball freshman wing Mackenzie Mgbako said postgame. ” … I just feel like we were together as a team today, more together as a team. Played with more effort. Just had more readiness on the ball, both on offense and defense.”

SEE ALSO: Indiana Basketball squanders another tremendous opportunity in close loss to Illinois

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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.