After coming out flat this year on multiple occasions after big games and/or short rest, Indiana got off to a quick start and never looked back on Monday night. Rutgers has been good at times this year, beating Seton Hall and competing in very close games with the likes of Purdue and Michigan State. But in part due to IU’s defense, and in part due to the Scarlet Knights’ own ineptitude, the Hoosiers controlled this one wire to wire. It was by no means a work of art, but it never will be with this edition of the Hoosiers. They got the win and snapped a 4 game losing streak to avoid dropping below .500 for the first time since 2011. You take what you can get, and the Hoosiers get this one, 65-43.
Overall: B+ Road wins in the Big Ten can be hard to come by. 20 point road wins are a rarity. Sure Rutgers looked worse tonight than most mid-majors the Hoosiers have faced, but much of that had to do with Indiana’s effort, especially on the defensive end. This game was always going to be about energy, and the Hoosiers had more of it from start to finish.
Coaching: A This game had danger written all over it. As we mentioned, Rutgers has battled against really good teams. Indiana was coming off yet another emotional loss against a top 5 team. The whole key to the game seemed to be getting off to a fast start and setting the tone. The Hoosiers did just that. Six weeks ago we lamented that this IU team had no identity. They clearly have it now. These Hoosiers are going to defend you hard and try to outwork you. It isn’t going to always translate to wins, but they are going to give you everything they’ve got. That manifestation has Archie Miller’s fingerprints all over it.
If we had to come up with a criticism tonight — it seemed like perhaps there was a missed opportunity to knock-out Rutgers early when head coach Steve Pikiell substituted 5 bench players in for his starters to make a statement. Miller stayed with his reserves as well rather than putting his starters back in.
Offense: B There’s no sugarcoating it, Indiana has been awful from behind the 3-point and free throw lines. Tonight Indiana had a good night from behind the arc, shooting 45%. IU will take that any day. Free throw shooting? Did we mention they were decent behind the 3-point line? The Hoosiers shot 44.4 from the free throw line, and they only shot that well because Freddie McSwain was 4-4. Let that sink in.
The key to IU’s good start was its ability to knock down the 3-point shot early and to get out to a double digit lead. Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan both were able to hit some big shots from distance to set the tone. The Hoosiers had decent ball movement in the second half and went back to feeding Morgan who was effective inside and out. Indiana had 15 assists on 13 turnovers.
Defense: A Rutgers shot 24% for the game and only had 5 assists. We should really just stop right there. Indiana’s defense was very effective at pushing Rutgers’ offense out beyond where they comfortably wanted to operate. Rutgers was reduced to a lot of perimeter passing and late shot clock bad attempts. The rest of the defensive stats don’t necessarily jump off the page — forcing 12 turnovers, 7 blocks and 5 steals. No, this was more about the Hoosiers being fundamentally sound, forcing Rutgers to take challenged shots with hands in their face, and taking away their top scoring option Corey Sanders.
Players with meaningful minutes:
- Al Durham, Jr.: B Make that two games in a row where he looked confident knocking down a shot, although he ended up 1-4 from the field. He had a bad force going to the rim. Contributed 4 rebounds in 21 minutes and was part of a solid defensive effort by IU’s guards.
- Josh Newkirk: B- We aren’t going to beat him up too much over a shooting slump, but make no mistake, he’s in a shooting slump. A bad one. 0-14 in his last 3 games. He did contribute 3 assists in 15 minutes and also played solid defense.
- Justin Smith: B- It’s the same story — he has to be better at finishing. He’s constantly in good positions to score but he hasn’t gained the composure to close it out. Comically, his only basket today was when he was literally falling on his back. He missed his other 4 much easier shots. He did add 5 boards and two blocks (including a really nice close out on a 3-point shooter) in 15 minutes of play.
- Robert Johnson: B+ After his hot shooting start we decided that the t-shirt under his jersey is a must going forward. After hitting the early shots, he seemed to have a knack for hitting timely shots the rest of the way including a big bucket late in the first half to end a Rutgers run. He was 7-16 overall, and 3-6 from distance for 19 points. He had a bizarre 0-3 trip to the foul line after being fouled on a 3-point shot. He also had 3 turnovers.
- Devonte Green: A- 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists in 30 minutes was a solid night for Green. But he really impressed with his defense on Sanders. Green was able to stay with the Rutgers scoring leader and disrupt him all night. It was a side of Green we have’t seen much, and it was a big key to the win.
- Juwan Morgan: A It’s really hard to come up with a flaw in his night. When he can go 3-4 from distance he is a nightmare for opposing defenses. Listen to this line — 24 points on 10-14 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. OK, so he was 1-5 from the line, which kept him from getting an A+, and more important, this has become a disturbing trend. Morgan is 21-45 in his last 8 games at the line.
- Zach McRoberts: B+ No killer crossovers tonight and overall a quieter game for the walk-on, but if you watch him playing defense closely you can see that he is really making things difficult for opposing offenses.
- Freddie McSwain, Jr.: B The 9 boards in 20 minutes was solid but he had a rough night otherwise with fouls, turnovers and an inability to finish. He just needs to be much more selective about putting the ball on the floor and looking for offense.
- Clifton Moore: B We’re not sure if he got the 4 minutes due to the short rest or maybe he’s earned it in practice. He looked nervous when he was out there, including a bad miss at the rim after a great pass set him up. He did have 2 rebounds.
- Collin Hartman: B He still hasn’t found his shot but the 1 of 4 shots that he hit was a 3-point dagger, giving IU their first 20 point lead of the game. He added 2 rebounds and a steal in 10 minutes.
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Photo credit – Adam Hunger/AP