The last four meetings between IU men’s basketball and Penn State were decided by five points or less.
On Wednesday night in State College, Pennsylvania, it was no different.
It didn’t look like the contest would come down to the wire with IU up 13 points with five minutes to play in the game, but a Hoosier meltdown including three turnovers in the final minute and nine seconds allowed the Nittany Lions to tie the game at 75 with four seconds to play.
“That wasn’t the Watford shot, but it was the same play run on a different side,” IU Coach Tom Crean said on the IU basketball postgame radio show with Don Fischer. “Literally, Thomas Bryant did the Cody (Zeller) screen, and James just came down that side of the floor, and what I told James after the game is that his footwork was perfect, his dribbles were perfect, the follow through was perfect and he stayed in his shot.”
The game was closely contested to start, with each team leading for nine minutes and change in the first half. IU started to pull away in the final five minutes of the first half and led by seven at the break, but the Hoosiers lost an important piece of their team with fewer than 10 seconds remaining before halftime.
Sophomore forward OG Anunoby buckled his right knee on a non-contact injury underneath the basket moments before halftime. Anunoby remained on the floor in serious pain while both teams headed the locker room. Eventually, the sophomore from Jefferson City, Missouri, was helped off the floor by fellow sophomore forward Juwan Morgan, who was out with a foot injury, and strength coach Lyonel Anderson.
Anunoby did not return to the ball game and stayed in the locker room for the remainder of play.
“We dealt with a lot of adversity tonight obviously and when you have a player like OG who means so much to not only the basketball team but far more to the basketball family that’s hard on everybody,” Crean said. “I have no update on him or other than he certainly couldn’t have returned to the game and we’ll take the next step when we get home.”
With the Hoosiers without two of their crucial big men, Anunoby and Morgan, due to injuries, IU was slim at forward for the remainder of the game.
IU’s largest lead in the second half was at 14 with nine minutes to play, and they continued to lead up 13 points with fewer than five minutes remaining. However, the Nittany Lions never backed off.
Although IU was leading big in the second half, the turnovers had all of a sudden become an issue for the Hoosiers once again. After committing five in the first half, IU coughed up the rock 12 times in the second half in addition to racking up fouls and putting Penn State in the bonus with nine minutes to play.
On the flip side, the Nitanny Lions weren’t playing a clean game either. They had just a few less mental lapses and only two fouls called against them in the first 18 minutes of the second half which helped Penn State claw its way back into the contest.
Freshman guard Curtis Jones was put on the free throw line twice in the final minute of the game and missed both front ends of one-and-one situations, which could have potentially been four points for IU. Jones’ missed free throws coupled with three turnovers by the Hoosiers in the final minute and nine seconds allowed the Nitanny Lions to tie the game at 75 with four seconds remaining.
“In this environment against a good team, we said this at halftime but our poise miss or make was really good and there’s been times when we get our heads down when we don’t make shots,” Crean said. “Our transition wasn’t as good as it needed to be defensively, but we had good poise and that’s the sign of a growing team.”
When it came down to it, IU’s big three combination of sophomore forward Thomas Bryant, junior guard Robert Johnson and Blackmon was strong enough to overcome any adversity that happened in the game. Each one of them netted 17 points Wednesday night, but no bucket was bigger than Blackmon’s at the buzzer.
“Coach just told me ‘I don’t care if you miss it, just do what you do and shoot the same shot you do every day in practice’,” Blackmon said to Big Ten Network postgame. “And I got my feet right and knocked it down.”