Late errors derail Rutgers' upset bid against No. 22 Indiana

<p>Sophomore wing Junior Etou emerges as a viable third scorer at Indiana with 13 points, good for second-highest on the team.</p>

Sophomore wing Junior Etou emerges as a viable third scorer at Indiana with 13 points, good for second-highest on the team.

The Rutgers men’s basketball team only had itself to blame.

Leading by two points with less than eight minutes remaining, the Scarlet Knights were within grasp of achieving a massive upset at No. 22 Indiana on Saturday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,472 in the historic Assembly Hall. 

Instead, an 18-8 run started by back-to-back 3s from Hoosiers guard Nick Zeisloft sparked Indiana (16-6, 6-3) to its 10th straight home win, 72-64, extending Rutgers’ (10-13, 2-8) season-high losing streak to six games. 

It’s also the program’s 25th straight road defeat to a top-25 team. 

The loss drew identical similarities to the Knights’ Jan. 14 game at Maryland, where self-inflicted turnovers and poor execution on both ends down the stretch ruined a chance at earning their first-ever road win in Big Ten play at the Xfinity Center.

“Indiana hurts you when they’re driving and cutting, and we just couldn’t get a handle on that tonight, although we played well for 35 minutes,” Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan told reporters postgame. “Playing a team like this on the road, in this environment, you have to play better than, well, the last five minutes. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to play better than well.”

Guards James Blackmon Jr. and Yogi Ferrell led Indiana with 20 and 14 points, respectively.

Both rank within the top-10 in the conference in points per game. 

But senior guard Myles Mack was arguably the best guard on the floor, scoring a game-high 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting with a game-high eight assists. 

Twenty of those points came at the start of the second half, with Mack sinking three consecutive treys to help Rutgers keep pace with the Hoosiers. 

It was a redemption game for the Paterson, New Jersey, native, who was coming off a two-game rut where he combined for just 15 points on 5-of-21 shooting.

“I think Myles was the best player on the floor today,” Jordan said. “Good players find the seams. They find the opportunities. If he didn’t have the ball, he was analyzing or zone-shifting and looking for the creases. When he has it, he was using a screen for other reasons to get his teammate open.”

The performances of sophomore wing Junior Etou and junior center Greg Lewis were also encouraging. 

Lewis, who averages 5.3 points per game, paced Rutgers in the first half with a team-high 10 points and five rebounds on 4-of-4 shooting.

Then, when the Knights were faced with Indiana’s matchup zone, Etou provided scoring from the perimeter, knocking down three 3s and finishing with 13 points — second-highest on the team.

“We’re always looking for a third scorer and we haven’t found a consistent third scorer, and Junior [Etou] was that tonight,” Jordan said. “That’s why we were able to stay in the game.”

It was the first time in conference play that four Knights managed double-digits in scoring, with senior forward Kadeem Jack also adding 11 points. 

Yet lack of depth proved costly yet again, with Indiana’s bench outscoring Rutgers’, 26-0. 

The loss of freshman guard Mike Williams, who averages the fifth-most points on the team and is out 10-to-14 days with a sprained ankle, didn’t help.

Neither did the fact that most of the Hoosiers’ bench points came from regular starters in forward Troy Williams and guard Robert Johnson, who started on the bench following the team’s back-to-back defeats on the road.

Rutgers’ small rotation of players was a notable problem, as was Indiana’s 34-26 advantage on the glass, which led to many second-chance points despite the Knights’ size advantage at most positions. 

But for a team that had only a day’s rest after Tuesday’s home game against Michigan State was moved to Thursday due to weather, Jordan took a glass-half-full approach to the defeat.

“There were a lot of positives tonight,” he said. “We competed against a ranked team on their home floor. It was a quick turnaround for us from our last game. But we stayed in the game, we competed, and we found a third scorer in Junior [Etou].”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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