On the surface it seems so simple. At the time we scored our final field goal of this game there was no pressure whatsoever. Terone Johnson's basket put us up 63-54 and we were still cruising despite a challenge from Butler early in the second half. There should have been no stress the rest of the way.
Instead, we decided we needed to get timid and refuse to attack the basket. Each possession dragged out with either no good looks or a forced shot. We managed to score two lousy points in the final eight minutes, on a free throw each by Lewis Jackson and Robbie Hummel. Even then, they missed other free throws that would have stemmed the tide. For the second time in two weeks we suffered a complete collapse by going away from what was working to build a big lead. I'm sorry, but if playing the game at a faster tempo, attacking the basket, and hustling back on defense is working there is little reason to stop doing it.
Quite frankly, we deserve any scorn and mockery we receive right now. We could not have looked better offensively in the first half, and could not have looked worse in the second half. Ryne Smith was lost on offense and we didn't even try to find him or get him open. We relentlessly attacked the basket and took advantage of backdoor cuts in the first half, but it was like we forgot how to do it in the second half. Butler didn't change anything or do anything special. They just waited for us to fall apart and took advantage.
Now, for the first time this season we have a seriously damaging loss and it looks like we are going to struggle to make the NCAA Tournament. We still have good wins against Temple, Iona, and Miami in our pocket, but this is a bad loss unless it wakes Butler up in Horizon league play. the magic number to dance for us is still 20 wins, and this now means we must win 10 in the Big Ten to get there.
It is so hard to pinpoint what is wrong, too. Everything that works in the first 30 minutes completely stops in the last 10. You could play the first 30 minutes of this game and the first 30 minutes of the Xavier game next to each other and tell a neutral observer that we would lose both and they would ask how. There is simply no excuse for this whatsoever. At least against Alabama we got outplayed. I can accept that. To completely fall apart after looking not only good, but dominant, is inexplicable.
It is not on Painter, either. people are questioning whether he is worth his contract extension, but that is simply irrational. Painter doesn't miss free throws. painter doesn't miss layups. Painter does not seize up and fail to attack the basket when that's what we need. What we need to do in these final minutes is so simple that I trust he is telling them to do it, but it is up to the players to get it done. Our final possession is an example. We needed to attack the basket, so we cleared a lane for LewJack because it was there all afternoon. We hadn't done it the entire second half, but when we needed to, he did it. He drew a foul, but missed the first free throw. Is that on Painter? No!
Any person with even a modicum of logic would look at this squad and see the talent is there to be a good team. you don't go into Xavier and dominate for 30 minutes without that talent. It is clearly a mental thing, however. It is mental that we're missing key free throws. It is mental that we tighten up as soon as the pressure is on. It is mental that our bigs are picking up fouls and stop being aggressive. It is mental that we don't do simple things like set screens to free up shooters or attack the basket. Right now, this is a talented team, but not a mentally tough team.
Well, there are no more excuses. Conference play begins in 11 days. The time to change things is now, and we have to decide if we want to change them or continuing rolling over when it matters most. There is no excuse whatsoever for rolling over like this.