It’s the Big Ten road gauntlet three, and Indiana zero.
The Hoosiers ran into a buzz saw of emotion at the Rutgers Athletic Center on Wednesday night as the excitement around an emerging Scarlet Knight (13-4, 4-2) program, and the return of star player Geo Baker had the sold out home crowd energized.
While there were some good stretches, those were outweighed by poor play, especially on the offensive end as IU fell 59-50 in Piscataway, N.J.
Somehow the Hoosiers are going to have crack the code for winning on the road, or they could be in for another brutal stretch that includes nothing easy away from home and several very difficult games in Bloomington.
Indiana (13-4, 3-3) travels to Nebraska on Saturday night for what should be their best chance to pick up a Big Ten road victory.
“The game is dictated by the team that sets the rules,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said after the game. There was no doubt who set the rules early, as Rutgers opened the game on a 12-0 run.
To their credit, IU responded in a big way, and fast.
After a timeout, the Hoosiers went on a 7-0 run capped off by a junior guard Aljami Durham’s and-one at the 15:12 point of the first half to cut the deficit to 12-7.
Indiana took their first lead of the game as part of a 10-2 run at the 6:52 point in the first half on a Justin Smith layup, 22-21.
“Thought we did a really good job of responding,” Miller said of his team’s play after falling behind early.
The challenge for IU this season has been sustaining high level play over the course of a game, however. And once again, seemingly no sooner than Indiana rallied to take the lead, they started to give it all back.
“And then late in the first half, turnovers. (We) let that, you know, that feeling kind of come back in at halftime,” Miller said.
That feeling is a team that genuinely seems to be unsure of itself, and lacks an identity that it can take with it on the road.
After Indiana claimed that 22-21 lead, Rutgers outscored IU 24-6 over a nearly 15 minute stretch spanning both halves to put things out of reach.
It is really hard to find positives with the way IU played on the offensive end of the floor.
Going into the game, Miller emphasized taking care of the ball on the road, and for too many key stretches the Hoosiers could not do that.
“Our guards didn’t take care of it as well as we needed to throughout the course of the game,” Miller said. “You’ll look back on it when we watch the game. Can you control what you can control? Have to take care of the ball better.
“You have 16 turnovers on the road. It’s a huge problem tonight. It’s a big problem moving forward. Our team’s got to do a better job of taking care of the ball, especially in tough situations where you can control it. There’s some sped-up turnovers out there.”
Even when IU didn’t turn it over, they had no answers offensively. Before an Al Durham three-pointer with just over five minutes remaining in the game, all of Indiana’s points came in the paint as the Hoosiers were unable to get anything to go in from the perimeter.
“And we were 2-for-18 from three,” Miller said. “That’s not definitely not going to get it done. We have to be able to find a way to make a couple of the open ones, especially on the road. That keeps you in the game and helps you.”
Perhaps more problematic than the three-point line were certain core elements of Indiana’s offense that all but disappeared on the road.
“And for the first time in a long time, 12 free throw attempts in the game,” Miller said. “We just didn’t get to the line, and probably has a lot to do with our inability on offense to run clean stuff.”
Miller also stresses transition offense to generate point before the defense gets set, but that element of the Hoosier attack vanished as well.
“One thing that stood out I thought for us, we weren’t able to convert in transition throughout the game,” Miller said. “I don’t know what fast break points mean anymore on a stat sheet, but it just felt like in transition when we were able to get some stops, and we’ve got quite a few, we didn’t convert. We weren’t able to capitalize on our break.”
The 50 points scored by Indiana was its lowest output of the season. The Hoosiers previous low was 57 in a win (UConn, Dec. 10, 2019).
On the defensive end, IU played well enough to win on the road. Any time you can hold an opponent under 60 points on their home floor you have to feel pretty good about the effort on that end.
The Hoosiers effectively took away the Scarlet Knights’ top scoring threats in Ron Harper and Myles Johnson, but others were able to step in and generate enough scoring for Rutgers.
One thing that IU continues to struggle with is how teams are attacking their hedges against high ball screens. On several occasions Rutgers was able to generate easy points at the rim after their big men slipped to the basket. The Hoosiers are going to have to become better schooled at defending those slips.
Indiana wasn’t able to be as disruptive as they were against Ohio State. While Rutgers committed 13 turnovers, IU had just 4 steals and very few live ball opportunities going the other way.
IU limited Rutgers to just five offensive rebounds, but that was in large part influenced by the Scarlet Knights’ abandoning the glass in an effort to get back on defense.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Three keys, final box score and specialty stats
- Archie Miller post-game
- Steve Pikiell post-game
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Joey Brunk* (A-) Nobody is playing harder for Indiana right now than Brunk. As a vocal leader on this team, he has to find a way to bring that same effort level out of his teammates. For the second straight game Brunk did a solid job defensively against a talented big man.
- Justin Smith* (A-) Smith also played hard throughout the game and at times seemed like the only Hoosier that could find the bottom of the net. He did a great job defending Rutgers leading scorer Harper, who was held well under his average and had three turnovers.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis* (C) It has been a bit of a reality check for TJD, who seems to be bothered by the physicality of the Big Ten. He only played 19 minutes, and although that may have been somewhat influenced by foul trouble, it was also because he wasn’t effective in this one.
- Rob Phinisee* (D) You can’t have your starting point guard produce just one assist in 32 minutes while committing as many turnovers (3) as made baskets. Phinisee has to find a way to be more dynamic on the offensive end.
- Al Durham* (C-) Durham also struggled to score, but he did draw fouls. Like Phinisee, Durham was not steady with the ball for much of the night.
- Devonte Green (F) Green just cannot seem to string together a series of good performances. This one was probably his worst of the season. He was a liability on the floor.
- Jerome Hunter (D) Any good feels from the Ohio State game seemed to dissipate as Hunter once again was unable to knock down anything from the field and was careless with the basketball.
- Damezi Anderson, Armaan Franklin, De’Ron Davis and Race Thompson also appeared in the game.
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