It’s been quite a road…an unexpected one to say the least for the Jags so far this season.
So, what’s the problem? Are they just not that good?
Wednesday night’s matchup may have been the unluckiest draw of the season and a tell-tell sign of what the remainder will look like. The Jags packed up the bus on a chilly December 7 night to face no.5 Louisville, who is undefeated at 7-0.
And the rest was history.
I’m guessing there was much excitement for the return home for many of the Jaguars. Three current team members are from Louisville, freshman Lyonell Gaines and sophomores Ian Chilles and Donovan Gibbs. Head Coach Todd Howard is an alumnus of UL along with his assistant coach Dave Padgett. Jordan Shanklin and Marcellus Barksdale are from Kentucky as well.
So all the boys are having a homecoming party, right? Probably--but it was eventually shut down.
All the excitement was nullified in the second half. The first half was extremely competitive as IUPUI stayed neck and neck with Louisville (8-0). UL’s interior dominated and Gorgui Dieng showed out in the paint and finished with a career high 18 points and 12 rebounds. He helped take UL up to a 12 point lead at the halfway marker. It didn’t take long for the Jags to cut into the lead. In about two and half minutes seniors Stephen Thomas and Alex Young, both coming off the bench, led the way. Thomas started with back to back swishes from long distance followed by treys from Young and Sean Esposito.
The scoring stream tied the game at 23 with around six minutes remaining in the first segment.
A couple possessions later, Marcellus Barksdale coupled on a traditional three point play and Christian Siakam hit just his second three of his career which took the lead to 31-29. IUPUI connected on 7-of-13 three pointers. UL fought back to end the half 40-35. The Jags scored the most points in the first half than any other opponent of UL this season.
IUPUI comes in 0-1 all-time against Louisville, losing 80-60 back in 2004 as a part of the Billy Minardi Classic, but the first half showed the Jags could rally with the Big East Cardinals. The tables turned and the second segment started with an aggressive UL 15-0 run throughout the first ten minutes. They shut the Jags down offensively.
"It was 27 minutes in, it's a six point game and we were right there," IUPUI head coach Todd Howard said. "We got a little bit fatigued which happens when you run into a BIG EAST and BCS level size and depth. For the first seven minutes it was a two possession game in the second half. But we led to second shots and easy run outs for them. We sometimes stepped up on penetration and gave them layups or and ones. We just weren't at our best."
IUPUI was down only 50-45 and Thomas scored again from behind the arc, but the Cards went on a 22-2 run to end any victory in sight for IUPUI. The run left the score 72-47 with a little under ten minutes remaining.
“Stephen Thomas came off the bench when he was normally a starter. He handled the press for the whole game and only turned it over three times. I really thought on a couple of those there was a lot of contact. I was very impressed with how he handled it."
The Jags have struggled from the floor this season shooting just under 40 percent from the field in four of the last seven games. For the year, they are just 41 percent overall and 30.6 percent from three-point range.
Young is the only Jaguar averaging double-digits at 18.7 points per game. Stephen Thomas is second on the team at 9.0 ppg, and was the only Jaguar to finish the Louisville game in double digits with 14 points, six assists and five rebounds. Young was held to a disappointing nine points and seven rebounds. The Summit League Preseason Player of the year, who came off the bench for the first time in 80 games, didn’t even see the last five minutes of the half from fouling out.
"You just cannot have dry spells but (Louisville) has so much to do with that because of their pressure and the way they extend and the variety of ways that they bring pressure," Howard said. "It is a whale of an experience to go through and I thought our kids handled it.
After hitting 52.2 percent from the floor in the first half, IUPUI was held to 10-of-38 (26.3 percent) shooting in the second half and a stagnant 36.1 percent overall. The Jaguars came in top in the nation in fewest turnovers per game but turned it over 20 times that led to a total of 26 points.
After a final score of 90-60 Wednesday night, I’m sure the Jags regret every time they turned the ball over and folded under the Cards defensive pressure.
The Jags have six straight games at home to carry them through the month of December. Coach Howard is switching things up with the starting lineups and stunned fans sitting Young and Thomas at the beginning of the game. I’m not sure if he was trying to make a point, but if so, I missed it. And it looks like the players missed it too. Every lineup on the floor still resulted in a yet another loss.
The Jags start the longest home streak in recent years on Saturday against Western Kentucky at 7 p.m.