Rutgers breaks numerous program records with win over Indiana
In a game with heavy conference standing implications, the Rutgers men's basketball team was able to get the edge over Indiana Wednesday night, taking the game over after digging itself out of a double digit deficit in the first half caused by early miscues and troubled shooting.
The Scarlet Knights (11-9, 4-6) and the Hoosiers (12-9, 3-7) both came into last night’s matchup tied with Nebraska and Northwestern at three Big Ten wins for the No. 9 seed in the conference standings. But, the home team got the best of the visitors this go around, leaving the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) with a 66-58 win and the most Big Ten wins in the regular season since joining the conference in 2014.
Rutgers took out Indiana the last time the two teams met at Madison Square Garden, when the No. 14-seeded Knights upset the No. 6 seed Hoosiers in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, 76-69.
Rutgers got off to an extremely slow start after winning the tip off and couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball, turning it over an average of once per minute through the first 8 minutes of play. Indiana fed off those turnovers and held a 16-8 lead with 12 minutes to play in the first half.
But from then on, the Knights played clean basketball, not turning the ball over the rest of the half.
“We just kind of settled down,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “We turn the ball over, we kind of have times like that. We try to get through those times. And I knew if we just sit down and guard them, not turn the ball over and get our shots up, we’d be okay.”
The Hoosiers expanded their 8-point lead to 10 with the score 25-15 with a little more than 6 minutes to play, but Rutgers came roaring back to make things interesting. The Knights ended the half on a 13-4 run off points from sophomore guard Geo Baker, junior forward Eugene Omoruyi and true freshman Ron Harper Jr. — who scored the final 5 points on a breakaway dunk and a corner 3-pointer in the final 3 minutes of play.
Down 29-28 at halftime, Rutgers came out of the locker room red hot, scoring the first 13 points of the second half and taking its first lead since 1:23 into the first. The Knights didn’t allow a single point until 14:29 to play on the clock and overall went on a 31-7 run (including a 22-0 run that marked the largest since joining the Big Ten) stemming back to that 25-15 deficit.
“We weren’t even thinking about how many points we were scoring,” Baker said. “I knew they weren’t scoring and that was kind of the main thing. Just keep locking them up and keep playing defense and I think that was really our point of emphasis for this game.”
A battle ensued at the RAC after Indiana called a timeout down 46-32, as the two squads went back and forth down the stretch. With 8 minutes to play, Rutgers held a slight 52-45 lead as the Hoosiers went on a mini run of their own.
Omoruyi played a big role down the stretch, securing offensive rebounds and putting in back-to-back layups to help the Knights separate themselves even more. But, Indiana continued to stay around and returned the game to just a 5-point differential with 2:03 to play.
Baker was fouled with 1:50 to play and proved he can be clutch in big moments, hitting both free throws and making it a three-possession game.
The Hoosiers followed up by putting up 3 3-pointers off an offensive rebound and steal, but missed them all and put Baker back at the line — once again, he hit both free throws.
More missed shots from Indiana and a breakaway dunk from sophomore guard Peter Kiss all but iced the game for Rutgers. Some intentional fouls that put the Knights at the line weren’t enough to stop this streaking group, who now have their most consecutive Big Ten wins in program history.
Baker led the way in points on the night with 16 and was followed up by Omoruyi with 14, Harper Jr. with 10 and freshman forward Shaq Carter with 8. Omoruyi picked up his sixth double-double of the season after grabbing 10 boards in the win.
Rutgers will go out to Columbus, Ohio to face Ohio State this Saturday at noon before hosting No. 5 Michigan at a sold-out RAC next Tuesday night.
“They tried to do a number on us, but me and my guys, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to fight,” Harper Jr. said.
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