BLOOMINGTON — Two Indiana defenders converged around Zavier Simpson as he dribbled inside the arc. Suddenly and inexplicably, they were gone.
The junior point guard took another dribble and tossed in an easy layup. Hoosier coach Archie Miller stormed onto the court, unable to call a timeout fast enough.
A once-raucous crowd stood shell-shocked. Michigan had taken a 12-0 lead within the game’s first four minutes.
It would somehow get worse.
Indiana’s first points came at the 12:57 mark, already down by 17. It needed almost three more minutes to get its first field goal.
While the Hoosiers self-destructed, the fifth-ranked Wolverines (19-1 overall, 8-1 Big Ten) continued to play basketball. They cruised to a 69-46 win that, thanks to an opening sequence that sent Assembly Hall into a fugue, rarely seemed even that close.
“We were just so mentally prepared for this game,” said freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis. “We watched a lot of film on them, we knew exactly what we had to do defensively and offensively. None of us were shying away from shots. … We were really confident in ourselves and we were ready to go.”
For a moment, the Hoosiers had hope. After being booed off the floor at halftime — the result of a 33-18 deficit and a 5-for-25 shooting display — Indiana (12-8, 3-6) came out of the break energized. A 3-pointer by Rob Phinisee three minutes into the second half cut the deficit to single-digits and restored life to the arena.
Just as quickly, however, Michigan snuffed it out. Brazdeikis, who led all scorers with 20, threw a stiff-arm by calmly nailing a catch-and-shoot trey on the next possession to push the lead back above double-digits. It would stay there for the rest of the night.
The Wolverines continued to create distance. Redshirt junior forward Charles Matthews, who finished with a double-double, scored seven points in 70 seconds to make the score 48-32, while the Hoosiers suffered through multiple droughts of over three minutes without scoring.
“They might score two and then we make a three, and then we get a rebound, we make a three,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “All of a sudden I look and we’re back to 16 or 18. That’s really hard to come back from.”
These two teams met on Jan. 6 in Ann Arbor. In that game, the Wolverines also stormed to a 17-point lead within 10 minutes and won, 74-63.
This was different. The first meeting was a nationally televised battle of two teams with sights on a Big Ten title and a deep run in March. That was a Michigan explosion after a lethargic month of December. That was the Wolverines hitting big shots, jumping passing lanes and throwing down dunks in transition.
Friday night, by contrast, saw Indiana come in on a five-game losing streak that began with the loss three weeks ago. This was a struggling squad desperately needing a resume-booster and injection of energy. This was the Hoosiers not getting it at all, appearing sluggish and half-awake instead. This was a nightmare performance at the worst possible time, a plunge further into a month-long abyss.
The performance of star guard Romeo Langford, an almost-Messianic figure in Bloomington, was representative of the entire night. The freshman committed three early fouls and never found his rhythm, totally stifled by Matthews. He scored just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.
“They came in here and did what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted,” Miller said. “Our team in general right now is soft. We’re also, for whatever reason, scared. You could just tell by the way that we played. Fight isn’t there right now and the confidence isn’t there on either end of the floor.”
Even Assembly Hall wasn’t ready. A clock malfunction just seven seconds into the game led to a six-minute delay. The shot clock on one side of the court never got going, forcing PA announcer Chuck Crabb to shout out the time at five-second intervals.
“That place was charged up like I remember it was in (2013) when we came here as the number one team in the country and you couldn’t hear yourself think,” Beilein said. “And our kids went out and just executed. Says a lot about who they are and how they adjust.”
Michigan adjusted to the delay with a series of punches. Brazdeikis nailed a corner three on the first possession. Simpson used a hesitation dribble to blow by for an easy bucket. Matthews hit a triple off an Indiana turnover.
The Hoosiers were unable to do the same. After the Wolverines extinguished Indiana’s second-half run, it never so much as threatened again.
When the final buzzer sounded, you could hear a pin drop in the storied arena.