The University of Indiana men's basketball team looked like title contenders after defeating the Kansas Jayhawks and North Carolina Tar Heels early in the season, but the Hoosiers have immensely struggled since Big Ten Conference play started at the end of December. Indiana ended their winless streak in the conference with a big win over the Illinois Fighting Illini over the weekend, but they were unable to keep up the momentum in a key road game against the Maryland Terrapins on January 10.
The game between the Hoosiers and the Terrapins had the feeling of a postseason tournament game. The Maryland fans created an electric atmosphere because they knew a win over Indiana would prove that the Terrapins are a team to take serious this March. The Hoosiers were playing with an intensity usually only found in the postseason because they were desperate to turn around their season after a rough stretch of terrible games against conference opponents.
Indiana and Maryland were in a tight game from the opening tip. The teams were constantly exchanging leads throughout the first 20 minutes. Maryland ultimately took a one-point lead into the locker room at halftime. The Hoosiers briefly took a 68-66 lead before freshman guard Kevin Huerter took over the game. Huerter hit a big 3-pointer and made an excellent outlet pass to set up an easy layup right to put the Terrapins back in the lead. Indiana's Robert Johnson missed the tying 3-pointer as time expired to give Maryland the 75-72 win.
The biggest problem for the Indiana Hoosiers over the past two weeks has been the offense disappearing for long stretches of the game. Regularly breaking the offensive sets created by coach Tom Crean has limited Indiana's scoring ability, and it really hurt them at times against Maryland. The Terrapins did a great job at disrupting the Indiana offense throughout the game, but an inability to create fluid offense has been a problem for the Hoosiers for quite some time.
The tendency to go cold at the free-throw line is also going to be a huge problem for the Hoosiers if they make the NCAA tournament. You simply cannot give away too many free points against good teams, and it came back to haunt them against the Terrapins. Indiana only made 43.5 percent of their free-throws in the tight loss on January 10. Getting that up to 60 percent would have been enough to win the game. The poor performance has Indiana as the 73rd ranked free-throw shooting team in the nation.
The biggest positive takeaway from the loss was the play of James Blackmon Jr. Indiana's leading scorer played one of his best games of the season when it mattered the most. It is hard to win in college basketball without one player that can take over the game, but it looks like the Hoosiers may have one of these game-changing players on their team now. If Blackmon continues to rise up in big games, then Indiana should have no problem getting their season back on track very soon.