Rutgers vs. Indiana: Low-energy crowd, team lead to embarrassing loss
Knights suffer 22-point loss after nearly defeating No. 3 Purdue
Where to begin with the Rutgers men's basketball team?
There's the good, the bad, the ugly and then there's Monday night against Indiana.
The Scarlet Knights (12-14, 2-11) were physically worked over by a less-than-stellar Hoosier team to the tune of a 65-43 scoreline.
From the opening tip, nothing went right for Rutgers. Just two days after nearly beating No. 3 Purdue in the same setting, the team was run out of its own gym by a team that had lost 5 of its last 6 games.
Indiana exploded out to a 22-6 advantage on the heels of five 3-pointers, despite being the worst team in the Big Ten from deep. While it's easy to credit the Hoosiers for coming out of the gates hot, the Knights looked sluggish on defense, not closing out on shooters and giving Indiana easy looks from range.
Rutgers would go on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 8 points, but that would be as close as the Knights would get for the rest of the game.
The Hoosiers were simply a much more physical team on Monday and beat Rutgers at its own game. It was an ugly game that Indiana just wanted to win more.
It's a theme that the Knights are all-too-familiar with this season — the team's next time out after an emotional game, win or lose, is a letdown.
After nearly upsetting Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Rutgers opened up conference play with a 22-point loss to Minnesota.
After the team upset then-No. 15 Seton Hall in its biggest win in years, it laid an egg at home against Stony Brook. The team followed that up with another inexcusable loss, this time to Hartford.
After being one shot away from taking down then-No. 4 Michigan State on the road, the Knights scored just 15 points in the first half against Ohio State and would go on to lose by 22.
And then of course there was the time that Rutgers almost beat No. 3 Purdue in front of a sold out Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), falling by a score 78-76. That was just two days prior to Indiana.
"We really gotta get beyond that too," Pikiell said. "We've had some games that were tough games, and we haven't followed those up with the right kind of approach ... That's on me as a coach, I gotta get them ready to play every game."
Pikiell has the least-talented roster in the Big Ten by a considerable margin. The fact that he was able to coach his team to the above results is nothing short of fascinating. But his style of coaching is dependent on relentless energy.
When only approximately 4,000 people show up for a Big Ten game against a historical program like Indiana, it is a disservice to the team. The Knights have shown they can play with any team in the country in front of a raucous crowd.
But the next step in Pikiell's rebuild is consistently competing with and beating teams in the middle of the Big Ten. Indiana is one of those teams, sitting firmly in the middle of the conference.
"Our seniors gotta decide — we can be a really good team," Pikiell said. "I think we can beat anybody too in this league. But obviously when we play the way we played today — that's not who I wanna be."
The team needs to do its part, and the fans need to do theirs in order for Rutgers to take that next step.
With just five games remaining, it is gut-check time for the Knights. They can either prove that they have really taken a stride forward under Pikiell or show that the program is still ways away.
"We gotta play a little harder," said Jake Dadika, senior walk-on and captain. "Get down, grind it, just really see what we're gonna do for the rest of the season. See how we're gonna turn around, what team do we wanna be?"