December 27, 2010

Hoosiers suffer holiday blues

The holiday break has not been a kind one for the Hoosiers.

For just the second time in the school's 115-year history, Penn State knocked off Indiana in Bloomington, 69-60. The Nittany Lions were powered by Jeff Brooks's career-high 23 points, who missed just three shots on the evening.

The loss also continues Indiana's recent tailspin, which now consists of dropping their previous three games after a 9-1 start to the season.

"This is one of those games where the other team has the score in their favor, but we lost the game because I really think we lost belief that we could come back and finish it off," said Indiana head coach Tom Crean. "We have got to go through that. That is where the old wounds and the old scars of not being able to finish it off came back and got us."

For the second straight game, the Hoosiers got out to a slow start on the defensive end. In a match-up that was reminiscent of the Northern Iowa game on Dec. 22, Penn State was hot from the outside. The Nittany Lions shot 5-of-7 from the three-point line despite coming into the game as the worst three-point shooting team (31.8 percent) in the Big Ten.

"We are a streaky shooting team," said Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis. "Some nights we shoot it and some nights we can't throw it into the ocean."

Ultimately, though, it was the size of the Penn State frontcourt that caused the Hoosiers the most problem early. Along with Brooks, forward David Jackson scored 13 points each in the opening frame to pace the Nittany Lions to a 34-25 lead at the halftime break. The duo, which stands at 6-7 and 6-8 respectively, also combined for 11 first half rebounds.

The second half, though, seemed to give Indiana hope. After an opening half offense that was stifled by the PSU 2-3 zone, the Hoosiers came out firing early. Three-pointers by Verdell Jones and Jordan Hulls forced Penn State to extend on defense, allowing IU to penetrate their way to the basket.

At the 8:45 mark of the second half, a left-handed runner in the lane by sophomore Maurice Creek capped of a big Indiana comeback and gave the Hoosiers a 48-47 lead, their first since the 17-minute mark in the opening half.

However the lead was short-lived, as Brooks scored back-to-back jumpers to put Penn State up for good. Indiana would later cut the lead to 53-52 with four minutes remaining, but was never able to overtake PSU.

"Our spirit and energy got us back into the game," Crean said. "We were just zapped at the end and some things didn't go right for us. That is what we have got to work on."

A trio of seniors paced the Nittany Lions in the conference opener. Brooks surpassed his previous high of 21 points to post a career-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Talor Battle dropped in 19 points, while Jackson added 15.

In an attempt to shake things up, Crean gave the starting nod to high-flying freshman Victor Oladipo. The Maryland native was the saving grace for the Hoosiers early in his first career start, tallying three points, a rebound, two assists and two steals in the game's first 3:30 minutes. He finished the game with 14 points and four rebounds. Jones led the way for IU with 15 points. Hulls added 13 points and four assists.

Christian Watford, who started the last game against Colorado 0-12 from the field, struggled all night, managing just three points on the evening. He did not convert a field goal in the first half for the second consecutive game. The sophomore was battling back spasms for the game's duration.

The loss drops Indiana to 9-5 on the season and 0-1 in conference play. The road does not get any easier for the Hoosiers though, who will take on Ohio State on Friday at 6 p.m. The game will be shown on ESPN2.

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