Indiana's high-flying offense, led at times by the athletic Victor Oladipo (4) this season, found itself grounded against a well-drilled, methodical Wisconsin unit Tuesday night.
Tuesday largely went as Indiana once hoped. The Hoosiers bested Wisconsin on the boards and cut down on their own turnovers, keys, Tom Crean said Monday, to beating machine-like Wisconsin.
Yet at night’s end, poor shooting and a surprising lack of assertiveness had drowned out those compartmentalized victories, and Indiana’s undefeated start to Big Ten play had been halted at three games. That came in large part because the one battle No. 2 IU simply could not afford to lose — the fight for pace, and therefore control of the game itself — it did, and Wisconsin (13-4, 4-0) stayed undefeated in the Big Ten by winning the Bo Ryan way, 64-59, in Bloomington on Tuesday night.
Bad shooting hounded Indiana just as closely as Wisconsin’s dogged defense, which never let the Hoosiers (15-2, 3-1) rev up the transition game they so prefer. Rarely did Indiana appear as fluid as it is when at its high-scoring best, and the Badgers’ discipline in taking away driving lanes and kick-out options led to a 3-of-12 performance from behind the 3-point line by the Big Ten’s preseason favorite.
As a team, Indiana shot just 20-of-54, and the Hoosiers endured lengthy barren spells during the second half. Still, Cody Zeller offered offensive hope early.
Rendered largely ineffective during Indiana’s trip to Madison last season by Jared Berggren’s bruising defense, Zeller wasted little time attacking his counterpart No. 40 on Tuesday night. He had scored 11 points by the under-12 media timeout, and he finished the half with 18 on 8-of-8 shooting.
Indiana worked tirelessly to shake Zeller loose across the court, employing slips, screens and general high-top subterfuge to create space for its All-American forward, who time and again exploited it against a largely hapless Berggren.
Yet for all of his proficiency, Zeller did not have the same impact on Indiana’s offense as a whole. Outside of his efforts, Indiana finished the half 5-of-20 from the floor, and no other player had more than five points at the intermission.
In the second half, though, he joined his team in its offensive futility, as he hit just one of his seven field goal tries after the break. Indiana as a team shot 7-of-26 from the floor, and while Wisconsin did not fare much better (43.5 percent shooting in the second half, 45.1 percent for the game), the Badgers made quality attempts for Indiana — or at least what Indiana generally considers quality attempts — a rarity.
“That’s how they play,” Zeller said after the loss, one he finished with game highs in points (23) and rebounds (10). “We’ll look at the film, see what they were doing, but that’s just kind of what they do.”
The Badgers hit several tough shots and generated enough second chances to keep Indiana at arm’s length through the second half. After taking the lead with 14:34 left in the game, IU never again led or tied the game.
“When we didn’t make our shots, we didn’t come down and stay as disciplined as we needed to offensively,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “We didn’t make shots like we do, and it affected us.”
Usually at least reliable, Indiana’s bench suffered a second-consecutive sub-standard effort Tuesday. After posting three points among four players in a weekend win against Minnesota, Indiana got just two points from Jeremy Hollowell among reserves. Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Will Sheehey and Remy Abell all failed to score entirely.
But ultimately, the difference fell in Wisconsin’s defense, and therefore its ability to control the pace of Tuesday’s game.
Crean worried Monday night on his radio show about rebounds and turnovers, both of which, he said, would allow the Badgers extra possessions, opportunities they would use to grind the game down in their trademark methodical style.
Yet Indiana committed just 11 turnovers, and it outrebounded Wisconsin by a 37-28 margin, pulling in 14 boards on the offensive end alone.
Instead, Crean found himself after the loss aiming his ire at ball movement, and at his team’s poor defensive recognition in certain situations. Indiana brought out its press in an effort to force Wisconsin into giveaways or even just hurried decision-making, but the Badgers committed just eight turnovers this night.
Indiana’s seven assists and woeful shooting percentage offered an explanation for defeat Crean did not expect, or at least one he did not mention publicly — Wisconsin simply ground the nation’s most efficient offense nearly to a halt, and it brought the No. 2 team in the country down consequently.
“That’s just how they play. They play their style of basketball,” junior guard Victor Oladipo said afterward. “We just need to do a better job of playing defense, you know, get back to the drawing board.”