Indiana lost their first Big Ten game of the season on Sunday, falling to the Michigan Wolverines 74-63 despite a second-half rally. The first half of the game had a familiar trend, one that saw the Hoosiers struggle in the opening 20 minutes and trail Michigan by as many as 19 points. Slow starts have plagued Indiana recently, and though they have been able to overcome early deficits against weaker competition, overcoming a double-figure lead against a defense like Michigan was too tall of a task.
However, though the slow starts for the Hoosiers can be maddening to watch, there were several encouraging takeaways from the game for Indiana. First, the Indiana offense was able to find a lot of success against arguably the best defense the Hoosiers will face all season long. Indiana posted 1.075 points per possession, the second highest total Michigan has given up all season long. Indiana’s offense was particularly impressive in the second half, which saw the Hoosiers outscore Michigan 34-30 over the final 20 minutes. Indiana also turned the ball over just seven times, a huge improvement in an area that had the team ranked dead last in the Big Ten. Another important statistic to note are the plus/minus numbers for Indiana stars Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan. When Langford was on the floor, the Hoosiers were outscored by just one point, and when Morgan was on the floor, the Hoosiers were outscored by only three points. The takeaway there is that when the Hoosiers had their best players on the floor, they were playing relatively even with one of the top teams in the country. However, Indiana had to go long stretches without both players in the first half, as each player had picked up their second foul less than four minutes into the game.
Yet despite those positives, the Hoosiers still have the glaring issue of trying to solve their slow starts. Both Langford and Head Coach Archie Miller acknowledged post-game that these will continue to cost the team games in the Big Ten, but Indiana has been unable to find a cure for the issue so far. The absence of Freshman guard Rob Phinisee due to a concussion, one of the steadier players in Indiana’s starting line-up, was certainly part of the problem and Indiana missed his defensive prowess at times in the first half, but their slow starts can not be pinned on his absence alone. The Hoosiers must find a way to open the game with more intensity and energy from the opening tip, not ten minutes into the first half.
Things will not get much easier from here for the Hoosiers, as they will now travel to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins on Friday, who have won 5 of their last 6 games, including a win over the #24 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. Phinisee, along with big man De’Ron Davis both missed Sunday’s game against Michigan, but Indiana is hopeful they can get both back for Friday’s match-up.