IU basketball starts with an airball vs. Michigan, and it never got better

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BLOOMINGTON — It started with an airball. The shot from beyond the arc left Parker Stewart’s hands just over a minute into Indiana’s Sunday afternoon game against Michigan. After a win like the one the Hoosiers captured over No. 4 Purdue on Thursday, the hangover was understandable.

But then came another miss. And another. And even a couple more airballs took flight before the first half ended.

IU and the 3-point line never quite became cordial, while on the other end, Michigan had its best 3-point shooting game of the season in an 80-62 Hoosiers loss.

“Well, again, the way teams are playing us, they know that they can make shots if they're open,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said. “I thought our early shots that we had on the perimeter, we had so much pressure coming at us, instead of just pump faking and letting the guys go by, they made us miss. They weren't hoping we missed, they made us miss shots.”

'Unacceptable': IU learns a hard lesson in handling success

The Wolverines didn’t question the Hoosiers’ shooting ability. With both teams entering the game hovering near above average shooting marks (Indiana at 34.6%, Michigan at 33.6%, respectively), coach Juwan Howard and his group constantly baited ill-advised outside opportunities. Michigan forced the looks it hoped for, and Indiana played along.

Opportunities such as Stewart’s initial airball, where he wholeheartedly caught the ball under the impression that he had an open shot, were skewed by the hands and length of defenders like Wolverine freshman Moussa Diabate — a scary sight as a shooter.

Aside from senior forward Miller Kopp, who drained the team’s lone 3-pointer through the first 20 minutes, the Hoosiers shot 0-of-8 from deep. Kopp’s shot from beyond the arc came over 17 minutes into the game — a long time to be digging a hole.

Indiana marked its third-lowest scoring total of the season. It failed to get in a rhythm down the stretch, often succumbing to Michigan’s rotations. The Hoosiers caught some of the same looks from the Wolverines, but Howard’s group ultimately displayed better discipline in similar situations and led Indiana down a shaky shooting path. It only trickled down into the second half.

The Hoosiers finished the game shooting 39.3% from the field, good for their second-worst performance of the season. Further out, they managed to shoot 5-of-19 from deep, the team’s fourth-worst mark of the season. Aside from Stewart and his late game attempt at heroics with three straight 3s during the final seven minutes, the team shot 2-of-13 from 3-point land.

This group has had poor shooting nights; 23.5% at Penn State, 16.7% from deep in the season opener versus Eastern Michigan and even 13.3% against Ohio State. But perhaps no performance was as costly as Sunday’s considering the way Michigan returned the favor.

The skin hardly remained on the ball when the Wolverines were finished with it. Michigan shot a season-high 65% from outside on 11-for-17 shooting.

It helped that the Wolverines’ top-two talents came to play.

Hunter Dickinson, now cemented as one of college basketball’s best big men while just in his sophomore season, showed every bit of why he was a prominent preseason candidate for National Player of the Year. Freshman Caleb Houstan, ESPN’s No. 8 recruit a season ago, enjoyed what might have been his best game as a professional prospect.

The two simply couldn’t miss, shooting a combined 8-of-11 from beyond the arc. The duo combined for 46 points, and opened up every little gap for the Wolverines. Indiana focused long and hard on any pick-and-roll Dickinson was involved in, often panicking at the thought of him diving to the rim or even losing track of him as he popped.

“Yeah, so obviously with Hunter shooting the ball like that and then our guards getting drilled on screens, we were supposed to switch or veer if they died on the ball screen, so basically I take the guy and then our guard stays up,” junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “But they kept thinking that he was rolling but he was popping, so he was getting right open shots at the top of the key.”

Dickinson didn’t take them for granted. With every shot he drilled, Indiana's chances inched away. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they never stopped falling.

Even when he did roll, Indiana’s defense made things easy for him as a playmaker. The Hoosiers would rush to fill the lane and help a pass over, sometimes even dragging the lone weak side defender away from the corner to help, thus leaving shooters time and time again.

Just days removed from the biggest win of the Woodson era, Indiana and its shooters looked drained. Woodson’s rebuttal was to bet all of Assembly Hall on the idea that Michigan would miss more open shots. Houstan and friends were loving every minute of it.

“You reverse that, we were hoping that they missed shots instead of making them miss shots,” Woodson said. “That was the difference in our pressure on their three-point shooters. I mean, that's something that hadn't been consistent for us. We've been normally good on the three-point line, but we let it get away tonight. That was the difference in the game I thought.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IU basketball starts with airball vs. Michigan and it gets no better

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