Sustaining success has been a difficulty for Indiana basketball in the past few years and the deficiency was evident again Sunday afternoon.
Just three days after a potential season-altering win at No. 4 Iowa, Indiana lost at home to Rutgers, 74-70. The loss took any chance away from the Hoosiers to build some momentum as Indiana slipped to 9-7 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten.
Indiana is now 2-9 in games following a ranked win in the Archie Miller era.
“In this league I don’t think it’s anything about momentum, you play a good team every night,” Indiana sophomore Armaan Franklin said. “Some games go your way, some games don’t.”
What makes this loss a tougher pill to swallow than other games after a big win is that it was a very winnable game. Rutgers was previously reeling, losing five in a row prior to Sunday.
With the competition level of the Big Ten, though, anyone can beat anyone. Indiana did not have the intensity or complete team-effort that Rutgers brought to Assembly Hall.
The Hoosiers’ lack of execution had them in a deficit for almost the entire game and needed a late run to really make it close. At halftime, Indiana trailed 38-33 and after the break Rutgers came out firing, building a 10-point lead at the 16:21 mark, 45-35.
“Offensively to start the second half the game really changed with the five turnovers in the first four or five minutes,” Miller said.
Turnovers continued to plague Indiana throughout the second half, as the Hoosiers lost the ball nine times in the second half for a total of 12 on the day. This kept the Scarlet Knights’ lead at double-digits until about the 10-minute mark.
After that, Indiana may have seen its only bright spot of the game in freshman guard Khristian Lander who’s shot-making was timely and kept them in the game.
Lander had been playing limited minutes all season but showed some more growth and confidence Sunday. The freshman played the longest stretch of his Indiana career thus far, entering at the 13:24 mark of the second half and playing all the way to 5:52 before getting subbed out.
In that stretch, his defense looked solid and he had two key 3-pointers to get Indiana back into the game. His second pulled the Hoosiers within four, down 60-56 with 8:36 left. Getting the game between three-to-five points became the theme for Indiana, though, but the Hoosiers could never string together enough stops to take the lead.
About every time Indiana got it close, they rushed their momentum and wasted it. After Armaan Franklin’s 3-pointer at 7:53, Indiana trailed 62-59. Immediately after the shot, Indiana got a stop on defense, and then Anthony Leal had his post feed stolen by Rutgers’ Myles Johnson. To follow that, Geo Baker hit a 3-pointer for Rutgers, to make the lead six again.
Indiana had another chance to tie it after Trayce Jackson-Davis hit two free throws to make it a 73-70 game with 43 seconds left. Rutgers used the whole shot clock on the next possession with Indiana earning what it needed in a Ron Harper Jr. miss, but IU could not secure the rebound and Rutgers went to the free-throw line to put the game away instead.
For as many close situations that Indiana faltered in, the team had a number of looks at the rim throughout that just didn’t go down.
“I thought they (Rutgers) dropped back with their size, especially at the center position and kept him between the rim and the players,” Miller said on the two-point misses. “You’re able to get down there, but you’re not able to get some clean ones.”
Indiana only shot 35% on two-point shots for the afternoon, with Jackson-Davis struggling being a big reason why. The sophomore star had been averaging 20 points per game but was held to 13 on 4-for-10 shooting Sunday. Johnson really made it difficult for Jackson-Davis and all of Indiana in the paint, blocking five shots.
Defensively, Indiana struggled a lot with guarding on-ball and the 3-point line again, too. All of the defensive progress seen at Iowa wasn’t present Sunday. The Scarlet Knights shot 36.4% from 3-point range and 50.9% from the field.
With the road trip to Michigan next weekend postponed, Indiana will have another long layoff before playing again. Unless there is a schedule change, Indiana will have over a week off before hosting No. 22 Illinois, a team that beat IU in Champaign earlier this season.
The proficient and intense practices before Iowa that Miller and the players credited in their big win will have to be replicated going into the next one. Miller said that the practice intensity before Rutgers was just as good and the team was bought in, it just wasn’t the result they were looking for.
“I’m disappointed for our guys, not disappointed in the result, I’m disappointed for them,” Miller said. “The attitude, the work ethic, and the togetherness has been as good as its ever been here.”