Well that escalated quickly.
Over the course of an hour, a promising start against Rutgers became in all likelihood the final nails in the coffin of the 2020-21 season and possibly a coach’s tenure.
Early in Indiana’s game against Michigan State on Saturday it appeared that the Hoosiers were well on their way to a fourth win in five games. Now, suddenly, after a mirror image collapse against Rutgers, IU has instead lost three of four and appears to be lost, broken, and dare we say it — throwing in the towel. Next up is precisely the Big Ten team you don’t want to face when all hope is seemingly lost.
Indiana (12-11, 7-9) will host No. 3 and first place Michigan (16-1, 11-1) at noon ET on Saturday in Bloomington, Ind.
If the game had continued how it started, we would be talking yet again about Indiana’s resilience in the face of adversity. But we are not.
Indiana led 23-8 with 9:42 left in the first half, and still led 25-14 with 5:56 remaining. But by halftime the lead was completely erased, and one play just before the buzzer might have best illustrated the direction of this season.
After IU had ostensibly secured a stop on the final possession of the half, Rutgers guard Paul Mulcahy ripped the ball out of Trayce Jackson-Davis’ hands from behind and quickly scored to give the Scarlet Knights a 35-31 lead going into the break. Jackson-Davis had been a beast in the first half with 12 points and seven rebounds, but when Rutgers was able to break IU’s leader, the flood gates opened.
Rutgers had a 10 point lead by the 18:19 mark of the second half, and while IU was still as close as nine with 10:50 left, the rout felt and ultimately was inevitable. Despite the final eleven point margin, Rutgers led by 20 on three different occasions.
Another fast start followed by a complete collapse left everyone scratching their heads, including the head coach, who himself couldn’t seem to fully comprehend what transpired over the course of two hours in New Jersey.
“We’re just going to have to be able to find a way to get that collectiveness back,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said.
When thinking about how the game really started, perhaps the focus should be on Indiana’s first two possessions. IU’s first attempt at a dribble move and first attempt at a pass each resulted in turnovers.
Everything feels better when shots are falling, and an early hot hand by Al Durham and resolve from Jackson-Davis helped to fuel the fast start while Rutgers opened the game 4 of 13 from the field. But it was all fool’s gold, and those first two possessions proved to be the more telling aspect of the game. IU could barely initiate its offense.
“I thought their pressure really rattled us tonight,” Miller said. “We had a hard time functioning cleanly on offense and a lot of it had to do, I thought, was just their ability to pick up the ball and really work.”
Rutgers made a conscious effort to stick to the hot Durham, who scored 14 of his 20 points in the first six minutes. The Scarlet Knights ratcheted up their effort on the defensive end and made everything difficult for Indiana’s struggling point guards.
“I thought their ball pressure was as good as we’ve seen all year. They disrupted our guards, our entries,” Miller said.
Indiana opened the game 8 of 12 from the field but proceeded to make just 14 of 49 (28.6 percent) to close out the game. The Hoosiers’ .897 points per possession were the second lowest average of the season, with only the offensive disaster against Texas coming in worse. IU made just 14 of 43 shots from 2-point range, as Rutgers sucked the Hoosiers into contested shots that were blocked 10 times.
How much of the fast start was due to Rutgers starting cold vs. Indiana’s effort? Miller liked what he saw early.
“I thought defensively, and I thought in our first half, our effort level was very, very good at times,” he said.
But whatever the reason for that early success, it was fleeting. A wave of seven Rutgers 3-pointers over the course of seven minutes late in the first half — yes, a 3-pointer every minute — completely changed the game and deflated the fragile Hoosiers. Punched in the mouth, IU could never recover.
“In the second half, right from the start, we weren’t ready out of halftime, and started with our defense,” Miller said.
At times it seemed there was only one team on the floor as Rutgers compiled 22 fast break points, many of which resulted in their nine dunks on the evening. Indiana looked the part of the Washington Generals as the Rutgers Globetrotters ran circles around them in an exhibition. And yet these were in actuality the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who had gone just 5-8 over their last 13 games, with all five wins coming against teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings.
It is a loaded word, but “quit” came to mind more than a couple times while watching what would ultimately turn into a prolonged 57-22 Rutgers onslaught over a roughly 24 minute span of game time. Indiana was routinely getting beat up and down the floor, with what appeared to be only one team sprinting in transition.
Indiana opened the season with what many, this outlet included, described as an elite defense. Now, the Hoosiers are letting their offensive struggles tank the one thing they could rely on.
“We’re letting our defense completely be affected right now by whatever’s going on in the game, whether that’s a bad play on offense, whether that’s a bad stretch on offense, but at the end of the day, we get quiet,” Miller said. “And right now is not the time of year to be doing that.”
Rutgers made 26 of their last 48 shots, had 22 assists, and scored both inside (36 points in the paint) and out (33 points from 3-pointers). In the end Rutgers scored 1.05 points per possession, which is not an insurmountable figure. But it is also deceiving. Rutgers had only scored 11 points with 6:30 left in the first half.
MORE GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score and specialty stats
- Miller and Durham post-game
- Notes, trends and numbers
- Fractured Hoosiers fall to pieces
- Extended Highlights:
Trayce Jackson-Davis and Al Durham (player of the game) helped Indiana get off to the strong start and the pair represented the only thing the Hoosiers had going throughout most of the game. That dynamic was compounded by reduced roles for Race Thompson who wore a mask as he deals with a nose injury, and Armaan Franklin, who didn’t play in the second half due to what Miller referred to as a leg injury.
Durham and Jackson-Davis had 26 of Indiana’s 31 first half points, but with Rutgers keying on the pair, neither was as effective in the second half despite still scoring 15 of Indiana’s 32 after the break.
Durham set a new career-high with five made 3-pointers, and he reached the 20 point mark for the second time in the last five games.
Jackson-Davis gave great energy, especially early. He was a force on the offensive glass with seven, and he added a career-high three steals.
Player of the game tracker: Jackson-Davis (9), Thompson (5), Phinisee (3), Franklin (3), Durham (3).
Player Notes: Joey Brunk had back surgery and is out for the season. Transfer Parker Stewart is also unlikely to appear this season.
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