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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, January 06, 2019 9:20 pm

Slow start dooms No. 21 Indiana in road loss to No. 2 Michigan

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

ANN ARBOR, Michigan – For a while, this game felt an awful lot like the matchup against Duke. In the first half, when Michigan was running up a lead that reached as many as 19 points, the Wolverines seemed like they belonged to a different league. Any team that makes 13 of its first 16 shots on a given day is probably not going to lose often.

Still, this wasn't Duke. As has happened so often this season, the Hoosiers looked hapless for 10 minutes and then played perfectly well for the final 30. Of course, those first 10 minutes were the difference today in a way that they weren't against lesser teams. Falling behind by 19 against a team as defensively sound as the undefeated Wolverines is a recipe for a disaster. Michigan went on to win 74-63 in a game that was only in doubt for a few minutes in the second half.

This easily could have been a 40-point loss. Indiana could have folded when the Wolverines took control. Instead, the Hoosiers battled and made a game of it. They cut the lead to as few as seven in the second half and brought some tension back into Crisler Center. That they didn't complete the comeback does nothing to diminish the toughness and fight the Hoosiers showed in even getting that close.

But what about those first 10 minutes? What can the Hoosiers do to be more prepared at the start of games? They've struggled early against good teams, against bad teams and against mediocre teams. They've struggled at home and on the road. Why? The answer from Indiana players and Archie Miller after the game today was a collective shrug. 

"If I had (the solution), we wouldn't have been down as many points as we were," Miller said.

For the coach, it came down to toughness. He didn't think his team was tough enough to start the game. That's a plausible thesis. When Michigan was making everything at the beginning of the game, far too many of their baskets were easy looks at the rim. Indiana didn't force turnovers and it struggled to stop the Wolverines inside. On offense, the story is much less clear. The Hoosiers hung tough for about five minutes after the opening tip, but then went ice cold as Michigan built its 32-13 lead. It wasn't really that Indiana wasn't getting good looks at the basket. Rather, it was that almost all of those good looks were rimming out. Juwan Morgan finished with 25 points, but he easily could have had 30 to 35 with all of his shots from the post that rolled off. 

"Offensively, we missed a ton of easy ones early," Miller said. "Ones that we'd been knocking in here for a good (14) games, 2-point baskets, which we've made a living on here early, but we weren't able to convert."

Of course, Michigan's defense has to get some credit for that. The Wolverines harassed Morgan and every other Indiana player that dared to venture into the lane, making every possession a battle. Morgan found his bearings in the second half and had 15 points, but was just 2 of 9 at halftime. That's at least partly because of how good this Michigan defense is. 

However, it's hard not imagine what would have happened if just three or four of those missed layups had rolled in in the first half. This game might've been completely different. Again, this wasn't Duke. Indiana could have won this game on a different day. Michigan is very, very good, a well-oiled machine on both ends that can beat its opponents in variety of ways. The Hoosiers weathered the storm and were the better team for the last 30 minutes. Now, to figure out those first 10.

dsinn@jg.net