PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Indiana didn’t concede. Coach Archie Miller found a small silver lining in that.
His Hoosiers went to Rutgers Wednesday night and got rocked, but not broken. They scored their fewest points of the season, and still gave themselves a late-game chance.
Wednesday night’s 59-50 defeat offered reasons for optimism, the coach told Voice of the Hoosiers Don Fischer in his post-game radio show, as well as opportunities for coaching points.
“We played all the way through the finish line and competed,” Miller said. “It was a tough night from outside. We didn’t make any shots. On the road, you have to make some shots.”
The Hoosiers (13-4 overall, 3-3 in the Big Ten) got a double-double from forward Joey Brunk (10 points, 10 rebounds) and a strong game from forward Justin Smith (15 points, seven rebounds), but 16 turnovers were too much to overcome.
“They got 18 points off of 16 turnovers,” Miller told Fischer, “so that’s tough to deal with, especially in somebody else’s building.”
IU fell into a 12-0 hole to open the game, roared back for a 22-21 lead then faced this road reality:
Only the toughest, most focused and disciplined of teams can win in such hostile environments.
You’d better believe Rutgers Athletic Center was hostile with its sell-out crowd and raucous energy that has produced a program-record 12-0 start.
“They hit us pretty good early,” Miller told Fischer. “I give our guys credit. We really stuck with it. We hung in there and took the lead.
“The last three to five minutes of the first half, we had some tough turnovers.
“Rutgers played extremely hard. They showed they’re one of the best teams in this league. The environment we were in carried into it.”
Settling for perimeter jumpers wasn’t the answer. Not when the Hoosiers were the Big Ten’s most prolific free-throw shooting team.
They took just 12 free throws — 15 fewer than their conference-leading average – and made 10.
They took 18 three-pointers and made two.
That was a big problem.
“We pride ourselves in getting to the line,” Miller told Fischer. “We’re one of the top teams in the country in getting to the line. I guess there wasn’t a lot of contact in the game or around the basket so we could draw fouls.
“Not being able to get to the free throw line hurt. Rutgers had a lot to do with it.”
As for the three-point shooting struggles, Miller told Fischer that, “(Rutgers) made it difficult for us. It wasn’t as if our guys were wide open.
“Everything was rushed. Our guys felt uneasy because of the way Rutgers brough toughness and energy to the floor.”
Guard play was critical, and IU’s Devonte Green, Rob Phinisee and Al Durham struggled. They combined for three assists and eight turnovers. Durham and Phinisee combined for 19 points. Green didn’t score.
Overall, Indiana had six assists and those 14 turnovers.
“It was an ugly one, a tough, hard-fought game,” Miller told Fischer. “Every game in our league seems to be like this. You have to find a way to not turn it over and give yourself more possessions.”
Rutgers (13-4, 4-2) hit Indiana with a 20-4 run spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second en route to a 17-point lead. That wasn’t surprising given it had earlier beaten Seton Hall, Wisconsin and Penn State at home.
The Hoosiers never recovered.
“In the second half, we didn’t convert,” Miller told Fischer. “We had some easy ones, some transition opportunities, and we didn’t convert. That made it hard on us.
“I got a technical foul that I didn’t want. that contributed to it, so the run got a little bit bigger.”
IU’s first two minutes of the game produced two turnovers, no baskets or free throws and seven Rutgers points. The next 30 seconds saw five more Scarlet Knights’ points.
A Smith basket ended the 12-0 run, and started a 7-0 Indiana responding run.
Rutgers surged to a 17-7 lead. IU got a three-point play from Smith to close within five.
The Hoosiers ramped the defense, made the Scarlet Knights’ offense disappear, and took that 22-21 lead before a 10-2 Rutgers run gave it a 31-24 halftime lead.
IU had just two assists and nine turnovers, plus took — and made — just four free throws.
That was no way to win.
Could they turn it around in the second half?
IU opened 0-for-6 from the field with a turnover to fall behind 38-24. One Rutgers point came when Miller was called for a technical for arguing with officials.
Brunk muscled up for a basket (overcoming two blocks in the process) to score for the Hoosiers’ first second-half points. It came five minutes into the half.
Still, the deficit swelled to 17 points before Smith powered in a couple of baskets to help spark a rally.
Durham hit Indiana’s first three-pointer — coming after 14 straight Hoosier misses – and it got them within seven points at 47-40 with 3:51 left.
They didn’t get any closer to fall to 0-3 on the road.
Next up is a Saturday night game at Nebraska.