WASHINGTON – Indiana's season come to a horrifying conclusion Thursday night.
The No. 1 seed Hoosiers fell 61-50 to No. 4 seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament at the Verizon Center, and IU looked nothing like the team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation for 10 weeks this season.
"It's going to take me a long time," Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said of getting over the loss in the East Regional semifinals. "It is going to take a while. We apologize to Hoosier nation, you know, because I know they wanted it too and they deserve it as well. It's disappointing to know we let them down.
"It just sucks, to be honest with you."
The Hoosiers (29-7) committed 19 turnovers that led to 13 points for the Orange (29-9), who will play No. 3 seed Marquette in the Elite Eight at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Indiana went 16 for 48 from the floor, made only 3 of 15 three-pointers and struggled at the free-throw line – going 15 for 24 – as it had its lowest offensive output of the season.
"Let's face facts. We haven't seen a zone like that," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "They're very good. They're where they're at for a reason."
IU fell behind Syracuse 11-3 in the game's first 6½ minutes as the Hoosiers' only points came from the free-throw line. Remy Abell's layup with 15:53 to play in the first was Indiana's first field goal.
But that did nothing to stem the Orange's onslaught. Syracuse built its lead to 29-11 with 3:39 left in the half, and even thought Indiana doubled its scoring total in the final 3½ minutes, the Hoosiers went into halftime trailing 34-22.
"They are long on top, and we tried to enter it too many times and turned it over," IU guard Will Sheehey said. "We just didn't really get into the flow that we wanted to."
Indiana started to get going in the second half, scoring the first five points in the opening 90 seconds.
The Hoosiers even cut their deficit to 38-32 with 14:12 to play after an Oladipo three-pointer, but the Orange responded with a 14-5 run to regain a double-digit lead, 52-37, with 7:25 to play. And Indiana was never able to get its deficit under double digits the rest of the way.
"It's always tough, ending the year, especially for the seniors and how much they have gone through and where the program has come from when they got here," IU forward Cody Zeller said. "It is always tough."
As much as Syracuse's 2-3 zone took Indiana out of its game, one of the biggest factors in the Hoosiers' loss was the play of the starting guards.
Orange starters Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, and Brandon Triche, a 6-4 senior, combined for 38 points (24 from Carter-Williams and 14 from Triche).
Hoosiers starters Jordan Hulls, a 6-foot senior, and Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell, a 6-foot freshman, were scoreless and combined for six turnovers (four from Ferrell and two from Hulls). Hulls had three assists, but Ferrell didn't have any.
"I'm sure the strength and the size of the Syracuse guards had something to do with it," Indiana coach Tom Crean said of Hulls' and Ferrell's struggles. "It's a matter of where you enter the ball from and we got tentative shooting the ball, which we didn't need to do. We had some turnovers early on, and our whole thing was to get our guards off the point so we could play more off the wing and enter the ball more from the wing and that was easier said than done.
"We prepared for it, there is no doubt about it, but it just wasn't meant to be with that. When we got it inside, we got some good looks, we didn't always come out with a reward, whether it be a basket or a foul shot, but you've got to make enough shots against the zone to spread it out a little bit and they didn't have to do that as much, so they did an excellent job. Again, it's not the missed opportunities of scoring that hurt us as much as it did the points off turnovers that turn into live ball turnovers for them. We did a much better job in the second half, but the first half, it got away from us a little bit there."
Zeller's and Oladipo's futures
Oladipo, a junior, and Zeller, a sophomore, could have played their last game for Indiana on Thursday.
The two Hoosier stars are expected to be first-round picks if they decide to enter the NBA draft instead of returning to college.
But both players said they hadn't thought about their next steps after losing to Syracuse.
"I don't know what the process is like from here," Zeller said. "I was putting everything into this team and this tournament, not worrying about it at all. I don't even know where I go from here."
Crean said he will help Oladipo and Zeller make their decisions.
"I'm sure I will do what I would always do, try to be a voice of reason, do the right research, try to give them as honest of an assessment as I possibly can," Crean said. "It won't come from dotcoms and scouts, it will come from general managers, scouting directors, people like that that really have an investment in what those picks mean andwhere they would potentially go.
"Just like we've done last year, and try to give them the best advice they could possibly have, be supportive of them and their families through the entire process and treat them with love and care like we always have."
- Carter-Williams went 9-for-19 shooting to get his 24 points for Syracuse. Brandon Triche added 14 on 6-of-12 shooting, and C.J. Fair had 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
- Oladipo scored 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Christian Watford had 13 points but only went 4 for 11 from the floor, and Zeller was 3-for-11 shooting for 10 points.
- Syracuse improved to 4-1 against Indiana. The Hoosiers only win in the series was the 1987 NCAA tournament title game.
- Indiana's 50 points was it lowest scoring output of the season.
- Syracuse shot 46.7 percent (14 for 30) from the floor and 42.9 percent (3 of 7) from three-point range in the first half.
- Hulls, Watford and Derek Elston – who got in for one minute – exhausted their eligibility in Thursday's game.
While Oladipo and Zeller are unlikely to return, Indiana still has a good base to build from after overcoming the sanctions placed on the program five years ago.
The Hoosiers will return their starting point guard in Ferrell, while junior Will Sheehey and sophomore Remy Abell have good experience to move into the starting lineup.
The Hoosiers also have forward Devin Davis (Warren Central), forward/center Luke Fischer (Germantown, Wisc.), forward Collin Hartman (Cathedral), guard Stanford Robinson (Findlay Prep, Nev.), forward Noah Vonleh (New Hampton School), and forward Troy Williams (Oak Hill Academy) coming in next year.
The recruiting class was ranked No. 3 by Rivals.com and Scout.com, and No. 5 by 247Sports.
"I feel like the younger guys have seen how hard some of the veterans have been working, we've already been working that hard and that work ethic will continue to increase in the following years," Ferrell said of the program's future.