Turnovers doom IU in Big Ten opener

IU junior guard Josh Newkirk dribbled the ball into the corner with 15 seconds to go in the game and the Hoosiers down four points to Nebraska.

The junior transfer was quickly trapped with nowhere to go and threw the ball into the hands of the Husker defense. It was IU’s 19th turnover of the game.

It wasn’t that single mistake that snapped IU’s 26-game home win streak Wednesday night against the Huskers 87-83, but a lot of the blame could be placed on the lackluster ball handling by the Hoosiers.

“The hardest thing to get across to any team, especially in league play when it’s magnified so much, is the mental errors, and we had too many tonight,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “We’ve got to continue to understand how to not make the game hard for ourselves. We made some plays that looked like it was our first game, and in our first game we actually played really well.”

The Hoosiers struggled the entire nonconference season to take care of the basketball, averaging about 16 turnovers per game. It didn’t hurt them as much when playing sub-250-ranked KenPom teams, but it was a glaring hole in the losses to Fort Wayne and Butler.

IU lost the turnover margin for the 10th time in 13 games this season Wednesday night against Nebraska as the Huskers committed just 13 turnovers of their own.

The turnovers can easily get overlooked when IU has much better talent on the floor than other nonconference teams they’ve faced. However, in Big Ten play, every team will give its best effort against the Hoosiers, and junior guard Robert Johnson said he felt like their best effort wasn’t on display tonight.

“We didn’t come out with the right mindset, myself included,” Johnson said. “We thought it would probably be a little more easier than what it was going to be and you can’t come out like that, especially in the Big Ten. We didn’t challenge enough shots and turned the ball over way too much.”

IU committed four turnovers in the first four minutes of the game, but then went on a nine-minute stretch where they didn’t give the ball up at all.

Johnson said he didn’t come out with the right mindset along with the rest of his teammates, but the junior guard was a main reason why the Hoosiers took the lead after being down 12 points 10 minutes into the first half.

The Richmond, Virginia, native had 13 points and three triples in the first half, including back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the deficit to two points, as the Hoosiers hit the locker room on a 20-5 scoring run.

Johnson committed just one turnover all night, but picked up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half. When he had to sit, IU committed five turnovers and had gone from up seven to down seven without its leader on the floor for nine minutes.

“I had a pretty good idea how good Rob is,” Crean said. “But playing without him for that long stretch tonight, I got a real good indication of how good he is and how much we missed him. He’s a stabilizing force for us.”

Crean said he’s real comfortable when his team hits adversity and has no doubt that his group will overcome what happened against Nebraska.

The Hoosiers will have to wait until Saturday to figure out its turnover woes against No. 6 Louisville at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 12:30 p.m. in their final nonconference matchup.

“I think it just all comes down to making simple plays,” Johnson said. “When you’re trying to win games, you can’t have too many mental errors, especially 19 — that’s way too much — and I think it all comes down to making simple plays and guys being locked into that.”


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