Rutgers comes up short against Indiana, 79-72, despite scrappy effort
PISCATAWAY — Trailing by double digits for the second time of the afternoon, the Rutgers men’s basketball team found itself in an identical situation.
Earlier in the first half, the Scarlet Knights used a surprising surge in the final two minutes before the half, entering the locker room on a 9-0 run to turn the tides of what was once a 12-point deficit against Indiana into a 34-34 deadlock.
But in part two, after cutting the deficit down to six points with 1:16 remaining, Rutgers couldn’t conjure up the same magic down the stretch.
With that, despite a scrappy effort in front of a 6,002 at the Rutgers Athletic Center, the Knights fell short in a tightly contested 79-72 loss to the Hoosiers on Wednesday afternoon in Piscataway.
“Like I said before, it’s a progress that we’re trying to build off of the last game in which we won,” said graduate transfer Omari Grier. “There’s still a lot of things that … we just need to improve on.”
Rutgers (6-8, 0-1) entered with a high motor, keeping up with Indiana early and often before falling to a 12-point deficit with 7:15 remaining in the first half.
But as much as the Hoosiers (11-3, 1-0) towered with eight players standing at 6-foot-7 and above to seemingly overmatch the Knights, that didn’t necessarily alter the game for head coach Eddie Jordan’s resilient crew.
Grier initially continued his hot streak from Monday night’s breakout performance against UMass-Lowell, netting 15 of his 20 points in the first half and eventually ending the game shooting 8-for-14 from the field and 3-for-6 from 3-point range.
But Tom Crean and Indiana slowed Rutgers’ main source of energy down with a switch in personnel on defense over the course of the second half, forcing the rest of the Knights in what was largely a seven-man rotation to step up during crunch time.
"You have to think that their defense keyed on him a bit and closed out on his shot at the three," Jordan said. "He was driving, trying to create. They had bigger people on him, they converged. You have to give their defense credit, they keyed on him. We just didn’t have a third scorer."
Like Grier, Sanders built off his most recent performance with a 17-point effort on 7-for-16 shooting from the field with a 3-for-7 clip from 3-point range.
When the Hoosiers centered in on Grier down the stretch to effectively make him a non-factor, Sanders rose the occasion with 15 of his 17 points coming in the second half.
But as the Lakeland, Florida, native mentioned, Rutgers didn’t collectively do enough to keep up with Indiana’s pace.
“I feel like we played a hard-fought game,” said freshman guard Corey Sanders. “We got down … we just always found our way back in it. But we couldn’t get enough to pull it out.”
Despite 23 turnovers showing up on the stat sheet at the end of the day, the Hoosiers made the Knights stay up with their pace, winging the ball around the key for open shots all game long.
And the same open looks that weren’t falling in the opening period of play finally began to convert when it mattered most.
Indiana overcame its slow start with 6-for-11 shooting on 3-pointers in the second half, converting on outside shots at opportune times on top of smart drives into the paint against an undersized Rutgers interior that saw sophomore forward D.J. Foreman and senior center Greg Lewis hit foul trouble early on.
But as much as the Knights struggled against the circumstances, they understood the inefficiencies of a winnable Big Ten game.
For starters, Rutgers missed 10 layups on the offensive end, nullifying what was otherwise a strong attack to the rim against Indiana’s sizable rotation.
“That’s just point-blank. We have to finish, myself included,” Lewis said. “We just can’t have those missed opportunities in big games.”
Lewis, who had four fouls, managed to work around the limitations and scrap his way to 13 points and nine rebounds in the low post over the course of the game.
Jordan noted that the experience gained by his young team should help it moving forward into conference play.
But even at that, the third-year head coach isn’t chalking up any moral victories from the 16th Big Ten loss in a row.
“Your players have to believe when you lose, they still have to believe in the system,” Jordan said. “You don’t want your players saying, ‘This doesn’t work, this isn’t good for us.’ It’s important they understand that you were in the game because of your effort and because of what we’ve been teaching you.”
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