BLOOMINGTON – Tom Crean made record time heading for the exit after the handshake line.
The players were just as quick to bolt off the floor following the post-game greeting with a Nittany Lions team who wasn’t as anxious to escape the moment that had just transpired.
What’s odd is that about 15 minutes before a number of Indiana fans were doing the same when their team grabbed a 12-point lead with 3:34 to play, escaping Assembly Hall with what the figured was the Hoosiers’ fifth Big Ten victory.
But Penn State flipped the script-and they had some help from their hosts.
The Nittany Lions took advantage of an Indiana team rattled by pressure-especially on inbounds plays-and finished the game on a 15-2 run to upend the Hoosiers 66-65 in front of a stunned 17,472 fans at Assembly Hall.
Included in that were three botched inbounds plays in the final seconds which allowed Penn State to steal a win in Bloomington and cause the Hoosiers to bolt quickly from the floor.
“The three words ‘Do you job’ when you do that consistently, than you’ve got a form of toughness,” said Crean following the meltdown-which drops the Hoosiers to 4-7 in the conference. “When you break down and you give in and you make mistakes, this league is good enough to make you pay.
Even the team that occupied the conference cellar heading into Wednesday’s game. While not perfect and occasionally beset by turnovers, the Hoosiers managed to lead the entire game and with a pair of Jeremy Hollowell free throw took a 63-51 lead with 3:34 to play.
Then things unraveled. The Hoosiers had four turnovers in the final 2:06 of the game, three coming when the Hoosiers failed to inbounds the ball properly. Penn State was down by seven at that point but got it to within four when Brandon Taylor hit a three-pointer which the Hoosiers couldn’t get the ball in.
After a Hoosiers’ missed shot and a jumper by Taylor it happened again, this time Will Sheehey turning it over on the inbounds. Travis Ross split a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left to cut the Indiana lead down to one.
The Noah Vonleh had trouble with the inbounds, throwing it down court after a four-second count and having it stolen by D.J. Newbill.
“We panicked,” said a stunned Sheehey after the game about the inbounds plays. “We didn’t stay true to our scouting report.”
Those turnovers-apart of 20 on the game-showed the didn’t and it cost them. Tim Frazier took a clean inbounds pass and drove straight to the hoop for go-ahead score with six seconds left. After a timeout, Indiana finally got an inbounds pass to work, but Yogi Ferrell could never get a clean look and his off balance shot was no good.
Penn State players immediately charged onto the court to celebrate as a stunned Hoosiers’ team and fans sought the exits fast.
“It’s not very fun to lose a game like that,” said Ferrell, stating what most everyone felt wearing the red at Assembly Hall on Wednesday. “It all comes down to execution at the end of the game. It just has to get a lot better. We just can’t panic on the court.
“We’ve just got to stay true to ourselves and execute.”
For a young Hoosiers team that’s necessary as they face a pair of daunting scenarios to try to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. With a 14-10 overall record now clouded by a loss to the Nittany Lions, Indiana would likely have to win out for the rest of the regular season to earn an at-large bid.
Should they not, they’d be faced with the prospect of winning the Big Ten Tournament to appear in the “Big Dance” for a third-straight season.
For Crean, however, keeping grounded in the present is his most pressing issue. This marks the third time in four games that the Hoosiers let a double-digit lead slip away late in a loss.
“We’ve got to get back to work tomorrow. I can’t psychoanalyze it,” said Crean of the loss. “We’ve got to go back to work tomorrow. It is what it is. This team beat Michigan a week ago. It’s just we’ve got to come back. That’s the way it is.
“That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to get ourselves ready to go beat Purdue. That’s the bottom line.”
So the effect of this devastating defeat can disappear as quickly as he and his team did off the floor at Assembly Hall Wednesday night.