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Indiana looks to exorcise road demons, prove legitimacy against Rutgers

They’ve earned a second signature win, they erased their mistakes from recent games, now the question becomes, can the Hoosiers keep it up?

Rob Phinisee during Indiana’s 66-54 win over Ohio State on Saturday. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

Just days removed from a monumental and potentially season-altering 66-54 win over then-No. 11 Ohio State, Indiana finds itself trying to maintain consistent strong play on the court after what was a vehemently ugly stretch of performances prior to the win over the Buckeyes.

Maintaining consistency goes beyond just rewriting the narrative of poor basketball as of late. Establishing an expectation of quality play against high-major opponents is something that has been nonexistent of the Hoosiers all year.

For example, the Hoosiers’ other signature win, a Dec. 3 win over then-No. 17 Florida State by 16, was followed up by a 20-point road loss to Wisconsin.

Playing on the road and playing on the road in the Big Ten is no easy task. In fact, of all Big Ten conference games thus far this season, the road team has only won five times.

Indiana certainly has had its fair share of road struggles. Two of the Hoosiers’ three losses have been their only two road games. Including the Wisconsin loss, and a 16-point beatdown at Maryland. Both games were the team’s worst performances of the season.

The Hoosiers will look to buck the trend and their horrid showings on the road on Wednesday when they play Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Rutgers has been a pleasant surprise this season and is off to a very solid start. The usual conference bottom dweller is a healthy 12-4 and is ranked No. 26 in the NCAA’s NET rankings.

The Scarlet Knights have two home ranked wins, over No. 22 Seton Hall and No. 20 Penn State, both by double digits. In addition, they have beaten an unranked, yet very formidable Wisconsin team.

A much-improved squad

Last year, when Indiana and Rutgers played, the two teams split the season series with Indiana losing on the road and winning the home matchup.

As indicated by the record, this Rutgers team is much more of a challenge than the one of a year ago. The Scarlet Knights’ new success can be attributed much to their talented duo of guards in sophomore Ron Harper Jr. and junior Geo Baker.

The two standouts are Rutgers’ only players who are averaging double-digit scoring numbers with Harper Jr. putting up 12.2 points per game and Baker with 11.5 points per game. The two are also similar in the fact that they both shoot a little above 40 percent from the field but are not adequate shooting from deep, each shooting under 30 percent from beyond the arc.

Where they differ is beyond the scoring figures. Harper Jr., being more of a wing who can play as a forward and is 6-foot-6, is excellent on the boards, corralling 6.2 rebounds per game. Baker is the engine that runs the offense, leading the team with 52 assists.

What could help Indiana out is that Baker is still out indefinitely right now with a broken thumb. He has missed the past three games, in which Rutgers has gone 2-1 in, losing its most recent game by three on the road at Illinois.

Surprising similarities

When looking at both teams as a whole, on paper they are remarkably similar. Both squads average about 13 assists and 13 turnovers per contest while both shoot 46 percent from the field as a team too. Additionally, neither team is special from the 3-point line, both as Indiana shoots 31 percent from deep and Rutgers is at 30 percent.

The most noticeable difference, and it is slight still, is that Rutgers’ only allows 59 points from the opponent on average compared to an average of 66 from Indiana. On the other hand, Indiana scores more than Rutgers does with 76 points per contest compared to Rutgers’ 72.

With the jarring similarities that the teams share, and with Baker being potentially out, there is legitimate opportunity for Indiana to steal a much-needed road win.

Searching for consistency

The Hoosiers will need to continue to feed the post to Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk as they have all year, while continuing to get the excellent guard play from the backcourt that has been a rarity for much of this season.

Indiana will need to find consistency across the board from both components of the offense, like it did against Ohio State, if a win were to occur.

As the common theme has been all year, this game will be another test in determining Indiana’s legitimacy. Following up the Ohio State game with what would be the team’s first road win of the year is the perfect opportunity to do so.

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