Indiana was embarrassed in West Lafayette earlier this season 83-67 and they wanted pay back in The Assembly Hall tonight. After all - a win might lock the Hoosiers into the NCAA Tournament while also potentially bursting Purdue's bubble given their current resume and tough stretch of games remaining. There may have been subzero wind chills outside - but the crowd was energized and both teams started the game on fire. Little did the faithful know they were going to head back into the arctic cold shell shocked with the first home "big game" loss that most current IU students have seen while in Bloomington.
Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who was injured in the first match-up, found his way back into the starting lineup tonight and didn't disappoint by hitting his first four shots including a huge alleyoop dunk from Kevin Yogi Ferrell in what is surely going to be on the SportsCenter Top 10 tomorrow morning. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, Perea also picked up two fouls within the first 8 minutes of the game and had to sit the rest of the first half. It was 16-12 Hoosiers when he left and from there - the defenses for both squads really kicked in. Stanford Robinson, who was likely Indiana's best post defender in West Lafayette, battled A.J. Hammons better than anyone again although Emmitt Holt and Collin Hartman made better efforts as well. The first half would come to end though with an offensive flare as Ferrell drove coast to coast and hit a floater as time expired to give Indiana a 29-27 halftime lead.
The second half was just as entertaining. Jon Octeus had one of the dunks of the year in college basketball at the 15:50 mark as he posturized Collin Hartman. That was followed by a quick stop and lay in by Rapheal Davis to give the Boilers 39-35 lead. The game would continue back and forth from there as the pace picked up. A.J. Hammons hammered home a dunk at the 10:03 mark, but was called for a technical foul due to taunting of the crowd which gave the Hoosiers a little bit of life. Still, with 3:59 remaining - Purdue was clinging to a 56-54 lead and was absolutely suffocating the Hoosiers on offense. With 1:45 left - Yogi Ferrell pulled up and made a critical trey to give Indiana the lead 61-60. However, Raphael Davis was too good late as he willed Purdue to a 67-63 stunner in The Assembly Hall.
Where does Indiana go from here?
It's a tough question to answer. Indiana was set up to finish the season on a huge roll with two very winnable road games against Northwestern and Rutgers followed by two home games against Iowa and Michigan State. It seemed they had the potential to go 6-0 down the stretch (with wins against MN & PU) and enter the tournament with all kinds of momentum. Now they have been beaten by their in-state rival in The Assembly Hall. It's been a long time since IU has lost a game like that here - and when it is Purdue that does it - that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Hoosier Nation. While Purdue is a very tough matchup physically - maybe the worst possible matchup in the entire country for this Indiana team - there are still a lot of questions to be answered about how Indiana will fare against the likes of Iowa and MSU who also pose tough matchups inside.
The Hoosiers now stand at 18-9 (8-6). Are they still in good shape for a NCAA Tournament bid? I think so - but the ice is starting to become very thin. They will likely be favored in all remaining games, but that also means they need to win those games. If there is another unexpected loss - it could really damage the tournament hopes. Especially if that loss were to come to Rutgers or Northwestern. Even if the Hoosiers are able to find their way in - it's going to occur at a much worse seed than many were thinking coming into the night.
The Hoosiers are still a dangerous team. Nothing about this loss changes that. Purdue was able to really limit what Indiana does well in both games this year - shoot threes. Indiana only got off 16 attempts tonight compared to 32 attempts against Minnesota on Sunday. No one else has been that successful thus far. If the Hoosiers can forget about this one and get back to what makes them the fourth most efficient offense in the country - they should be fine down the stretch. It is likely the Hoosiers have moved themselves down to that #8 or #9 seed level, and if I were a #1 seed in that "pod" - I wouldn't be too happy about it. Indiana is capable of being special - and Hoosier Nation just has to hope they are going to find a way to be special when it matters most.