Indiana basketball went from on top of the world to the sky falling in a matter of minutes.
Ten minutes had gone by in the first half, Al Durham had hit a 3-pointer and Indiana had a chokehold on Rutgers, 23-8.
It was happening. Indiana had woken up from its lapse against Michigan State, played with urgency, and was determined to get a huge road win in hopes of securing an NCAA Tournament bid.
That was the last high point for Indiana, though.
From there, Rutgers went on a 27-8 run and somehow Indiana’s 15-point lead became a four-point halftime deficit. The Scarlet Knights continued the dominance through the whole second half, pounding Indiana into a 74-63 loss Wednesday night in Piscataway.
The Hoosiers have now lost two in a row and are 12-11 on the season with a 7-9 Big Ten record.
“This is a humbling game,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “I think it’s the first time all season long our team has really looked fractured where we didn’t know how to compete, what to do.”
Indiana’s inability to compete throughout the second half derived from a few fundamental mistakes that plagued the team throughout the entire game — tons of turnovers and lousy 3-point defense that killed any opportunity for efficiency from the Hoosiers.
Rutgers’ immense ball pressure gave Indiana hell all night and ultimately led to 13 turnovers. The Scarlet Knights scored an equal number of points off those turnovers and killed Indiana’s offensive flow in the process.
Six of Indiana’s turnovers were committed by their two point guards. Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander each lost the ball three times and were wholly ineffective in getting Indiana’s offense into any sort of rhythm.
Both only had one assist to their three turnovers and neither scored a point, either. The two were a combined 0-for-10 from the floor.
Phinisee and Lander weren’t alone in their struggle to score. Outside of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Durham, only five other Hoosiers scored, and they only put up 20 points in the process.
Jackson-Davis had 21 and Durham scored 20. Jordan Geronimo was the next leading scorer with eight, but all of that came in garbage time and he was largely a non-factor when the game was competitive.
“Tonight was a tough night for our point guards… but at the end of the day it’s not just one position or one player, we’ve got to get much more contributions from a lot of guys,” Miller said. “We have to figure out what we need to do to start off better or get more consistent play.”
The lack of consistency on offense carried over on defense as Indiana got completely lit up by Rutgers after it went through its dismal first 10 minutes.
Indiana had particular issue in guarding the 3-point line, from which Rutgers shot 39.3%. The Scarlet Knights were 11-for-28 for the game from deep, but after their 0-for-7 start, they were 11-for-21 for the rest of the game.
That included in the last eight minutes of the first half where Rutgers was 7-for-8 from the 3-point line. That stretch is arguably what did Indiana in as the momentum was drained and Rutgers had all the energy needed moving into the second period where they dominated.
Indiana had no answer on the defensive end for Ron Harper Jr. or Geo Baker, who each had 20 points.
As a negative byproduct for both ends, Armaan Franklin and Race Thompson weren’t healthy for the whole game.
Thompson looked out of it playing in a facial mask after being accidentally hit Tuesday in practice, per a release from IU Athletics. Miller said Franklin had reaggravated his ankle and that is why Franklin did not play for the entire second half.
Moving forward, Indiana has a lot of ground to make up in short time for it to have any chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament. Only three games remain before the Big Ten Tournament and none of them are going to be easy.
The Hoosiers will host No. 3 Michigan on Saturday before going on the road to Michigan State and Purdue to follow.
With the Hoosiers already on the bubble, and now sliding out of being in the field of 68 NCAA Tournament teams, it’s uncertain how many wins are going to be needed for Indiana to make it, but it is skating on thin ice right now.
“We’ve got a great opportunity on Saturday at home, but it’s not going to work in any game that we play the rest of the season if our competitiveness and our concentration when things aren’t going well doesn’t come back around,” Miller said.