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Rutgers likely ends Indiana’s season at the Big Ten tournament with questions surrounding the future

INDIANAPOLIS — History repeats itself for those who don’t take the time to learn it, and Indiana basketball never learned from its previous matchups with Rutgers.

Twice this year Indiana looked capable of beating Rutgers but ended up with a four-point loss at home in January and a major collapse on the road in late February after dominating much of the first half.

Thursday’s meeting was no different. A good start turned into a sour second half and Rutgers earned a third victory over Indiana to complete the season sweep.

The No. 7 seed Scarlet Knights triumphed over the No. 10 Hoosiers, 61-50, knocking Indiana out of the Big Ten tournament while also probably ending its season at the same time on Thursday night in Indianapolis. There is a possibility of an NIT appearance, but it is unlikely.

Indiana likely finishes the season with a 12-15 overall record, ending it on a six-game losing streak and earning its first losing record since 2011.

Indiana’s Rob Phinisee looks to move the ball on offense in this year’s earlier home matchup against Rutgers in Bloomington on Jan. 24, 2021. (Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics)

While playing for any hope of extending its season, Indiana found itself in a usual spot late in the second half. It was a back-and-forth game when Armaan Franklin drilled a long two-point shot to give Indiana a 48-47 lead with 9:50 left. After Franklin’s bucket, any offensive momentum vanished.

Indiana didn’t score a single field goal for the remainder of the game.

“You got to make some free throws, you got to make some layups, you have to make some open ones at this level at this stage of the season if you’re going to have the chance to advance,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said.

There were opportunities, including a number of missed chances at the rim, but ultimately Rutgers went on a 14-2 run to stomp Indiana’s season into oblivion. The only two points in that stretch were two free throws from Al Durham.

Per usual, Indiana had a strong defensive outing, holding Rutgers to nearly 10 points under its season average. The Hoosier offense was the crux of the struggles, both in the last 10 minutes and through the whole game.

The only reliable offensive option was going to Trayce Jackson-Davis in the paint, who led with 19 points. Removing his 8-for-14 shooting night, the Hoosiers were 13-for-42 (31%) from the field.

It was another uninspiring night from the 3-point line, too, only making 2 of 16 shots from distance. The free-throw line wasn’t any help either as the Hoosiers struggled tremendously at the line, going 6-for-15.

“We got fatigued,” Miller said. “We didn’t convert around the rim. They do a good job of their defense… we weren’t able to get any easy ones.”

As simple as it sounds, Indiana just couldn’t make the shots to stay in it and Rutgers took advantage. Even with Indiana missing shots, if the Hoosiers could just hit their free throws the game could have gone down to the wire.

In the final 4:27, Indiana was 2-for-8 from the free-throw line. Two of those misses were on the front ends of one-and-one opportunities, meaning the Hoosiers could have had two additional free throws if they didn’t miss on the front end.

Assuming Indiana hits those theoretical eight free throws, IU could have had a one-point lead with a little over a minute to go.

Regardless of all the shortcomings in the game, numerous questions dominate the state of the program and its direction moving forward.

First-year Athletic Director Scott Dolson has a gigantic decision to make in regard to Miller’s future and the over $10 million buyout that it would cost if he were to move into a new direction.

“I’m not entering any offseason wondering if I’m going to be back, those decisions are way higher than me,” Miller said when asked about his future. “Questions about me and whatnot are really not my concern.”

Along with that, questions linger about the possibility of returns from seniors Al Durham and Joey Brunk due to their extra years of eligibility available and if Jackson-Davis will decide to leave for professional opportunities or not.

The only certainty is that the Indiana basketball program is in a very difficult spot with its most pivotal offseason in a long time ahead of it. The fanbase is enraged, the NCAA Tournament drought will continue, and there has been no consistency or stability over the course in five years.

There were numerous opportunities to change all of that as many realistic opportunities evaded Indiana this season but instead the theme of coming close, but not closing, will define a season that once had extensive promise.

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