After a demoralizing home loss to Michigan last Friday, Archie Miller ended his postgame press conference by describing how much a single victory would help these Hoosiers, who had just dropped their six consecutive game.
"I think our team has got to continue to learn to do some things a little bit different, but right now we're a shell of where we were a month ago," Miller said. "We've just got to find a way to regroup, and one win really helps that. One win would really help a lot of things."
Thus, Miller's group traveled to Rutgers in hopes of securing a temporary halt to Indiana's bleeding. Instead, the Scarlet Knights used a 22-0 run, primarily to start the second half, to defeat the Hoosiers 66-58 and continue the tailspin of Indiana's once-promising season.
The 22-0 run
For as uninspiring as the 17-0 starting deficit was for Indiana on Friday against Michigan, this string of basketball was worse. In Piscataway, Al Durham scored with 3:58 remaining in the first half to give Indiana the 29-19 lead. The Hoosiers would not score for the next 9:29 of game time, shooting 0-of-10 from the floor with six turnovers. Rutgers, meanwhile, used its 22-0 scoring run to cover its deficit and hand itself the 41-29 lead with 14:48 to play before Romeo Langford connected from 3-point distance.
It wasn't any individual player that caused this run. Sure, Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan accounted for half of the missed shots during the run -- but Langford and Morgan are the only two players in which Rutgers had to defend. I'll get to depth and offense in a minute, but both were exposed as Rutgers figured things out at halftime. Wednesday's game was a solid start for Indiana, forcing the Scarlet Knights to seven turnovers in seven minutes during the first half and appearing to play with more energy. The Hoosiers were productive offensively aside from the 22-0 run -- but 9:30 is an irreversible amount of time to go scoreless.
Let's talk depth
This team lacks it. That part is obvious. Injuries and youth have hurt: Junior forward De'Ron Davis is not the same player he was before a torn achilles and has struggled to make a full return this season. On paper, freshman Jerome Hunter is a former top-50 recruit that would have likely solved Indiana's problem with scoring droughts in seemingly every recent game. Redshirt freshman Race Thompson, who remains out, is a frontcourt option that, at the very least, would have lessened the physical workload of Juwan Morgan. Junior guard Devonte Green's indefinite suspension has also thinned Miller's bench drastically.
But injuries and youth are not the only reasons why Indiana's bench was outscored 19-2 at Rutgers and why the Hoosiers are an ache away from playing walk-ons. The Hoosiers, losers of seven consecutive games, are desperate for injections of confidence and victory. Grad transfer Evan Fitzner has not been the weapon that he was against the likes of Marquette: Fitzner has fallen to the end of Miller's bench: the 6-foot-10, 3-point specialist is 0-for-12 from distance in his last nine games. Fitzner made four 3-pointers against Marquette, three at Duke, and has not converted more-than-one in a game since. The Hoosiers are depleted, yet Fitzner is playing the least amount of minutes that he has ever played in 2018-19 -- including zero minutes at Purdue.
Pregame against Rutgers, Miller said Zach McRoberts is now dealing with a leg injury after recovering from a back issue earlier this season. McRoberts appeared briefly on Wednesday, but was evidently unavailable. Nonetheless, he has not scored in 12 of the 17 games that he has appeared in. McRoberts does provided Indiana with needed intangibles, but limits the Hoosiers' capabilities on offense. Averaging over 17 minutes per game, McRoberts has not even attempted a shot in six games this season.
The reason Indiana lacks depth is two-fold: the Hoosiers are depleted in terms of numbers and many are under-performing or nonthreatening on offense.
Sources of Offense
For the large part of Indiana's loss in New Jersey, the Hoosiers had open looks. Those looks were awfully similar to those manufactured in IU's resounding victory against Marquette earlier this season, except Wednesday's did not fall. Langford finished 7-of-20 from the floor, freshman point guard Rob Phinisee was 1-of-4 from 3-point range, and IU's bench was 0-of-5 from the field.
Phinisee is a solid facilitator for a freshman point guard being thrown into a difficult role. Opposing defenses, however, are able to focus on Langford and Morgan while daring the likes of Justin Smith, Al Durham, Zach McRoberts, etc. to shoot. Smith even mentioned it during media availability:
“It’s weird,” Smith said. “I’ve never really experienced [not being guarded] before, and it’s something I’ve got to get used to but use to my advantage. If they’re going to give me that space, I’ve got to take advantage of it and use it to the best of my ability.”
Wednesday's game against Rutgers was seen as an opportunity to collect a victory and restore confidence before Indiana's Big Ten slate gets even tougher. The Hoosiers now travel to Michigan State on Saturday, a severely unpopular place to end a seven-game losing streak. From there, Indiana hosts Ohio State and Iowa. Despite seven consecutive losses, IU's season remains alive because of a strong Big Ten and resume wins against Marquette, Butler and Louisville. But it is barely alive, does not look alive, and marches on to the Breslin Center this weekend.