By Dustin Dopirak —
Archie Miller went into Sunday’s game against Rutgers with no illusions.
Indiana was coming off a stunning upset on the road against No. 4 Iowa in which it suffocated the nation’s most efficient and second-most prolific offense, holding the Hawkeyes to 26.5 percent shooting in the second half.
But defending Iowa and defending Rutgers are not similar tasks because the Hawkeyes’ guards look to make 3s and the Scarlet Knights’ guards go all out to get to the rim and finish. Plus they can create turnovers and they’re a problem in transition. The fact that Rutgers had lost five straight games going back to Dec. 29 didn’t make them any easier to defend off the bounce, so when Miller was asked on his pre-game radio interview with Indiana radio play-by-play man Don Fischer about keys to the game Sunday, he talked at length about guarding the ball and minimizing turnovers.
So it was no shock to Miller that the Hoosiers lost 74-70 to the Scarlet Knights, squandering all the momentum they had from the Iowa upset, because they failed to stop dribble drives and gave the ball away 12 times.
“There wasn’t any surprises,” Miller said. “… There weren’t a whole lot of secrets. They did what they did, and we had a very difficult time just keeping the ball in front.”
The Scarlet Knights put four guards on the floor and generally played four-out, one-in, and attacked off the bounce on the perimeter from every one of those spots. They finished with 30 points in the paint with eight layups and four dunks in the game with the guards being responsible for seven of the buckets at the rim and dribble-drives helping create opportunities at the rim for their big men. Centers Cliff Omoruyi and Myles Johnson finished with eight points each on a combined 7 of 8 shooting with a number of those coming either on easy drives and dishes or misses at the rim that turned into easy putbacks. The Scarlet Knights shot 50.9 percent from the field (27 of 53) and finished with 1.12 points per possession per KenPom.com, the second-highest figure by an Indiana opponent this season.
Just about every guard Rutgers put on the floor got to the rim at least once. Senior Geo Baker had his best game in three weeks with 19 points, including a layup and a dunk. Senior Jacob Young slashed for a couple of layups. Guards Paul Mulcalhy and Caleb McConnell each got a layup off the bounce and junior wing Ron Harper Jr. scored on a dunk and a jumper in the lane and got to the line for eight free throws.
The penetration also led to some open looks from the outside. The Scarlet Knights were 8 of 22 from 3 for the game, but the four second-half 3s were critical in staving off runs. Baker hit four 3-pointers himself with three of those coming in the second half.
“We knew this was going to be a guard-the-ball game for us,” IU sophomore guard Armaan Franklin said. “I think their guards, they did a good job of penetrating the paint, getting looks for themselves and getting looks for their teammates. We just gotta be better in on-the-ball defense.”
And since they couldn’t stop the dribble, the Hoosiers really needed to eliminate turnovers and they didn’t do that well either. They were careful in the first half, giving it away just three times, but they exceeded that figure in the first four minutes of the second half with five turnovers by the under-16 timeout. They finished with nine second-half turnovers for a total of 12 in the game. Rutgers turned those into 14 points and finished with a total of 16 fast-break points.
“The game really changed with the five turnovers in the first four or five minutes,” Miller said. “… Finishing the game with 12 turnovers after having three in the half, big, big difference in the complexion of the game.”
Despite the fact that the Hoosiers had failed in the two areas he explicitly told them they needed to succeed, Miller seemed oddly sanguine about the effort. They had practiced well, he said, the effort was there, and the cohesion they showed in the time since their loss to Purdue on Jan. 14 was as good as he’d seen in four years in the program.
But turnovers are turnovers, and Miller could certainly not come up with any excuse for those. And the breakdowns against the dribble were not just individual but systemic.
“We got whipped in straight lines,” Miller said. “We also had some real breakdowns in communication just in execution of switches or execution in certain types of a coverage. I thought we were bad in execution of the system. That’s been a part of our problem. We were much better against Iowa in being able to execute. We weren’t as good today in being able to communicate and talk and keep the ball in front.”
But Miller ultimately viewed the defeat as just as much a product of Rutgers being good at what it does as Indiana having breakdowns. The Scarlet Knights are better than advertised, he said, and the Hoosiers simply couldn’t stop them from doing what they do well.
“Rutgers is a driving team,” Miller said. “They have terrific offensive one-on-one players, that’s how they play. Ron Harper is at the 4. That’s a tough matchup for anybody. Between Baker, Young, McConnell, (Montez) Mathis those guys are all hard-attacking, driving guys. … I thought our defense would be tighter. It wasn’t.”
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