This IU men’s basketball team was going to lose at some point.
There’s a reason nobody has finished an undefeated season since the revered 1976 Hoosiers: it’s incredibly hard. Whether it was last Sunday at Rutgers, Saturday at Arizona, or in January or February, it was bound to happen sometime.
But it was the nature of Indiana’s loss to the Scarlet Knights that head coach Mike Woodson has zeroed in on. Yes, the Hoosiers were down a starter in Jalen Hood-Schifino, which certainly impacted the game. But Woodson felt Rutgers was the tougher team on the floor on Sunday.
“I think you can be beaten by anybody in college basketball if you don’t come to play. We can’t play like that, especially on the road.” Woodson said on Tuesday. “There was some good things, but I just thought we got out-toughed. That was more glaring to me than anything.”
That difference was most clear on the glass. Rutgers handily out-rebounded the Hoosiers, 47-33. That was the first game this season in which IU lost the rebounding battle.
In fairness, Rutgers is one of the strongest rebounding teams on Indiana’s schedule this season. The Scarlet Knights rank 19th in the country and second in the Big Ten with 41.5 rebounds per game. Their +6.0 rebounding margin is tied for 61st in the country and fourth in the conference. Meanwhile, IU’s margin is +4.7 with 37.88 rebounds per game (both tied for 96th in the nation). Rutgers forward Cliff Omoruyi’s 9.8 rebounds per game is tied for 21st in the country and third in the Big Ten.
So it’s not as if Indiana was out-muscled on the boards by a team with no business doing so. For as much as the Hoosiers rely on rebounding to control games, Rutgers does that even more.
But the Hoosiers know how important rebounding is to how they play, and that they need to be better with that than they were on Sunday.
“Rebounding is a team effort. At the end of the day, we watch film and learn from it,” forward Miller Kopp said. “For us, rebounding, that side of the ball, is huge, because you limit teams to one possession, it definitely helps your chances of winning. It’s more of a focus and mentality thing. It’s hard to just gameplan and practice that as much as you can. It’s more about, ‘Shot goes up, hit somebody.'”
Trayce Jackson-Davis did tie Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell for a game-high 10 rebounds. But he didn’t get the help he usually gets on the boards.
The toughness, even outside of rebounding, is harder to quantify. But it was the first time this year that IU wasn’t the toughest team on the court.
Kopp wasn’t overly concerned about that going forward. Just because the Scarlet Knights were tougher than the Hoosiers were in that game, he said, doesn’t mean they aren’t strong.
Woodson felt strongly about that. He said there’s not a ton he can do in practice to instill toughness in his players, because it only matters how strong they are on game day. And he knows his team is capable of playing tough basketball. He saw it against North Carolina, through winning 50/50 balls and stout defense.
“It ain’t magical,” Woodson said. “We got out-toughed against Rutgers, so we’ve got to figure out how to not let that happen again going forward. I can roll a ball out and do “loose ball drills” like Coach Knight used to do and make you get on the floor and knock the shit out of somebody and get a loose ball. But that don’t mean shit to me. You’ve got to do it in the damn game when it counts.”
IU will try to right the ship Wednesday against Nebraska at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
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