Indiana men’s basketball is a team with a lot of problems, and right now, not many solutions.
The Hoosiers dropped their second straight road game Tuesday, a 66-57 loss to Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J. It’s IU’s fifth straight defeat at Jersey Mike’s Arena.
And the root causes of this result are familiar. IU (11-5, 3-2 Big Ten) has had flaws all season, but some serious issues have emerged as constants that are holding the team down in a lot of games.
The most glaring problem was at the foul line. The Hoosiers weren’t a good free-throw shooting team going into this game, ranking 275th in the country and 13th in the Big Ten at 68.3 percent. But they set a season-low on Tuesday, by far, by shooting 4 for 15 at the charity stripe.
Rutgers (9-6, 1-3) won by just nine points. This would’ve been a different game if IU even shot just 50 percent at the foul line.
This wasn’t the first time free throws have been an issue for IU — and given the evidence from over two months of games, it’s unlikely to be the last time, either.
“If I had a magic pill that I could give them about making free throws, I would. It’s all mental,” head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “When you get fouled and you’ve got to go to the line, they’re free. So you should feel good about yourself and go up and knock them down and punish them for fouling you. And we didn’t do that tonight. That’s unacceptable. We’ve got to get better at making free throws. You’re not going to beat teams in the Big Ten doing that. We’re just not.”
Tuesday also wasn’t the first time the Hoosiers struggled with turnovers. They committed 19 turnovers at Nebraska, one of the biggest differences in that game. Woodson made clear how big of a problem that was in Lincoln, and IU cleaned it up against Ohio State, committing just four turnovers in Saturday’s win at home.
But the weakness resurfaced against Rutgers. IU turned it over 18 times, and the Scarlet Knights turned that into 18 points.
The Hoosiers averaged 12.2 turnovers per game on the season entering this game. But over the last five contests, including Tuesday’s, Indiana’s averaging 13.6 per game. It’s hard to win a lot of games — especially road conference games — with that amount of sloppy play.
The same goes with rebounding — particularly offensive boards.
IU allowed 9.1 offensive rebounds per game to opponents going into this game, which is 202nd in the country and sixth-fewest in the Big Ten. IU hasn’t been leaky on the defensive glass all season. But after Ohio State grabbed 22 offensive rebounds on Saturday, Rutgers finished with 19 on Tuesday. This was the Hoosiers’ eighth game against a power-conference opponent, and they’ve given up an average of 13.9 offensive rebounds in those contests.
“It’s always a problem,” Woodson said. “We won a game against Ohio State, losing the glass by 20 rebounds. And you say, ‘How in the hell can you win a game like that?’ But it was the other areas where we were pretty good at it. And you’re not going to do that with most teams in the Big Ten. It’s something we’ve got to clean up, because it’s been a problem for our ballclub this year.”
This team is just inconsistent. It’s been that way all season. And, really, it’s been that way since Woodson took over as head coach. The Hoosiers can play really sound, entertaining basketball and beat a good team one game, only to come out flat against an inferior opponent three days later.
To a certain extent, no college team is immune from that sort of variable play from game to game. But the best teams overcome it and find ways to win without playing its best, and can bounce back from those games and regain its form.
Indiana is not doing that right now. It’s starting with the team’s veterans. Woodson called out senior captain Trey Galloway, sixth-year captain Xavier Johnson, and senior Miami transfer Anthony Walker after the game for their on-court leadership.
“I expect our seniors, Walker, X, and Gallo — Anthony Leal has been great, no complaints there — those three guys, the seniors, they’ve got to help lead,” he said.
IU is playing a lot of undisciplined basketball right now. And while teams should aim to peak in March, not January, this group can’t withstand many performances like this in conference play with its current résumé. And the Hoosiers certainly can’t afford to perform like this against a team that was previously winless in the Big Ten.
Indiana has to get itself together before it’s too late. The schedule gets tougher in the second half of January, and the team that played in Piscataway on Tuesday wouldn’t fare well against those more difficult opponents.
Woodson saw only one way to develop the sort of consistency the Hoosiers lack and to get them back on track.
“Work. Continue to work. That’s all you can do,” Woodson said. “You’ve got to continue to work. So we’ll go home and go to practice tomorrow and get ready for Minnesota. We have to continue to work to get better. And I’ve got to get them over the hump. I’ve got to figure that out.”