By Pete DiPrimio
EVANSTON, Ill. – Sometimes, you have to send a message.
Sometimes, if you’re Mike Woodsonyou chose short-term adversity because it’s – always – about team over individual, and holding players accountable.
“I’m not here to mess around with guys who do not want to do what’s asked of them,” Indiana’s coach said in the aftermath of Tuesday night’s 59-51 loss at Northwestern in which five Hoosiers were suspended for violating team rules.
“If they do not,” he added, “they’ve got to go.”
Let others settle for win-at-all-cost coaching.
Woodson has a program to build, a championship to try to win and lessons to teach.
Suspending five players was the season’s most painful lesson. He said there’s no guarantee this is just a one-game thing.
“I’m very disappointed because I’m strictly about team,” Woodson said in the post-game press conference. “Those guys in the locker room know I’m very upset about it.”
Facing the challenge of the Big Ten road and, in many ways, must-win pressure at Northwestern, Woodson borrowed a page from Bob Knight‘s do-it-right coaching by refusing to play guys who failed to meet expectations.
What did they do?
Woodson refused to discuss it.
“I’m not going to give you all the in-house things. They broke rules and were punished for it.
“If we’re going to be a team, we set rules that guys have to obey. That’s what you’ve got to do.”
With guard Rob Phinisee out with a foot injury and freshman center Logan Duncomb a season-long non-factor (six games, 14 total minutes), IU was left with six scholarship players (although walk-on Nathan Childress got three first-half minutes), and not nearly enough offense.
The Hoosiers lost their second straight game, the first time that happened all season, and set a season low for points, but for Woodson, for this game and situation, that was not the point.
“You’ve got to do all the necessary things to win on and off the floor,” Woodson said. “It does not start on the floor. You’ve got to do all the necessary things off the floor as well.
“We have rules. When you disobey those rules, things have got to happen.”
Still, Woodson found a silver lining with the guys who played. They gave IU a chance to win until the closing seconds.
“I could not be happier for a group of guys, based on what we had to go through today,” he told Voice of the Hoosiers Don Fischer during the post-game radio show. “They fought and played their butts off. We did not have enough coming down the stretch.”
Beyond that, he called it a “learning experience.”
“When you’re short-handed, you’ve got to do all the necessary things on both ends of the floor to win games.
“The fact that we were short-handed, I still thought we played well.”
Playing without a full roster did not mean the Hoosiers had to lose, especially given it had the Big Ten’s stingiest defense, and two of the conference’s best players in Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson.
Woodson went full bore with his next-man-up demands.
When reserve forward Jordan Geronimo picked up three first-half fouls, Woodson went to Childress.
Galloway responded by tying his career highs for points (13) and rebounds (five), and adding three assists in 37 minutes. But he also committed a pair of Flagrant 1 fouls and fouled out.
“Trey played well,” Woodson told Fischer. “He did not have a sub. I could not get him out. I’m happy with the way he played. It’s something he can grow from.”
Jackson-Davis had his 31st career double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds in 39 minutes. Thompson added 14 points and six rebounds in 36 minutes. Miller Koppa former Northwestern player, had three points, six rebounds and two assists.
Indiana opened the game by going right to its strength with a Jackson-Davis three-point play.
Then Galloway went on the attack. He drove for layups, hit a three-pointer and totaled nine points as the Hoosiers surged ahead 14-8.
Northwestern (12-10, 5-8 with a three-game winning streak) surged back for a 21-19 lead despite 1-for-10 three-point shooting.
IU turned to Jackson-Davis, strong defense and resiliency to forge a 30-26 halftime lead. Jackson-Davis and Galloway each had nine points. The Wildcats were just 1-for-13 from three-point range.
The Hoosiers built a seven-point lead, their biggest of the game. Northwestern wiped it out with a 7-0 run.
Then it got worse.
Assistant coach Kenya Hunter was called for a technical foul after complaining to officials. That led to a Northwestern free throw, some offensive rebounds and a Wildcats basket, separated by Woodson telling Hunter to “relax.”
Northwestern added a three-pointer for a 13-0 run and a 41-35 lead. It twice pushed ahead by seven.
IU closed within three points. Northwestern banked in a three-pointer, then got two free throws on a flagrant 1 foul by Galloway for a 53-45 lead as the clock approached four minutes.
Back came the Hoosiers.
Leal hit a pair of free throws, his first of the season. Thompson dunked via a Galloway assist. The lead was four.
But with 2:36 left, Galloway was called for his fifth foul that was ruled his second Flagrant 1 foul. That led to two Northwestern free throws and forced Leal to handle point guard duties.
IU’s comeback hopes were finished.
“Northwestern did what they had to do,” Woodson told Fischer. “We had good shots on the perimeter we just did not make. Trayce had some looks down low that he did not make. It’s a game of inches when you’re trying to win games.”
The Hoosiers play again Saturday at Michigan State, which lost at home to Wisconsin Tuesday night.
“We’ve got to get back home, regroup and get ready for Michigan State,” Woodson said.