INDIANAPOLIS – Logic said there would be days like this-and so has Tom Crean.
At multiple points in the early going of the 2013-2014 season, the Indiana coach has preached the need for patience and process as his teams of 14 freshman and sophomores gets a feel for the elite level of college basketball play.
Over the course of a few weeks or months, this group of underclassmen gifted with talent would eventually create their own identity through both effort and style of play.
While it’s too early for the Hoosiers to reach their figurative “Crossroads” for the season, at the Crossroads Classic the conclusion was reached by the coach that the goal to start the season remains a work in progress even as the shadow of the Big Ten season creeps closer.
“Our struggle right now is learning who we are verses who we want to be,” said Crean after Indiana’s 79-72 loss to Notre Dame Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “We’re not a team that’s going to be real successful thinking that we’re gonna shoot a lot of jump shots. We’ve got to get into the lane.”
It was an obstacle against an Irish team full of veterans who controlled the inside for the better part of 40 minutes. Notre Dame outscored Indiana in the paint by ten for most of the first half as they built as much as a 13-point lead and it forced the young Hoosiers to play catch-up.
While Indiana was able to tie the game twice in the second half, they never once grabbed the lead over 40 minutes as their record fell to 8-3.
“Second chance points, turnovers, two things that we’ve got to cut down on,” said Will Sheehey-one of the few veteran players on the team-when asked what kept the team from being able to break through for the lead.
That was especially the case when a Yogi Ferrell three-pointer got the Hoosiers to within two points with 2:47 to go and it appeared they may be ready to make a run. But the team finished up the game 1-for-7 as the Irish took control at they end of the game-yet it was the negative flow of the game set by Indiana early that Crean more attributed to the loss.
“The game is never won or lost at the very end. We shot to many jumpers to begin the game. Some of that is were not demanding the ball the way we need to,” said Crean. “We’re not demanding it verbally. We’re not demanding it physically the way that we need to. We just have to be better.”
At times Indiana has been this season but unlike a number of their early games this contest came under the spotlight of a national stage and in front of a sold out Bankers Life Fieldhouse in which the crowd was heavily in their favor. It might explain why the Hoosiers weren’t attacking inside early as Notre Dame led with points in the paint 16-6 after 15 minutes of play.
The lead expanded to 13 and only the hot shooting of Sheehey (16 of his career-high 22 points in the first half) kept the Hoosiers in the game against a determined Irish team reeling after a loss Wednesday to North Dakota State.
A more assured Hoosiers team tied the game at 47 and 49 early in the second half but unable to find their rhythm inside quickly fell behind by eight again. They would get the lead back down to as little as one twice in the final nine minutes and then eventually two with 2:47 left, but had final answer for the tough Irish defense.
“I just don’t think we kept the off the glass enough,” said senior Evan Gordon when asked about the young team having trouble on the big stage. “Their transition was pretty good and we didn’t execute what we wanted to throughout the game.”
But the building continues for the Hoosiers who have two non-conference games against Nicholls State Dec. 20th and Kennesaw State Dec. 22nd before opening the Big Ten season at Illinois on New Year’s Eve. After watching his team under the big lights for 40 minutes, he knows the original goal is still top of mind.
“Any team that’s going to be successful forms an identity. It’s formed over a period of time,” said Crean.
The question for Indiana fans-as it was in the beginning-is how long that will take.