(IU RELEASE)

Mercy?

There’s none of that. Not in the brutal Big Ten.

Powerhouse teams keep coming, pressure keeps growing and only the tough survive.

From the 74-63 loss at Rutgers, with Saturday’s game with No. 3 Michigan at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall looming, the Indiana challenge is clear.

Find a way.

“We have to move to the next one,” guard Aljami Durham said. “It doesn’t stop here. Move on from this, grow from this, learn from this, respond to this.”

Response was lacking in the second half at Rutgers (13-9, 9-9), just as it was in the second half against Michigan State four days earlier.

“When things don’t go well,” coach Archie Miller said, “we tend not to fiercely compete to stay in the game. Lately, in the second halves of the last two last two games, we have not responded with that comeback effort.

“We can get it back. This is a humbling game. This was the first time we’ve looked fractured. That goes back to me.”

In fact, it goes back to all the Hoosiers. Their 12-11 record, 7-9 in the Big Ten, is not what anyone wanted or expected.

But there is still time, Miller said.

“We’ve got a big finish. We’ve worked hard to get right there. We have a great opportunity on Saturday, but it won’t work if our competitiveness and concentration doesn’t come back around.”

A winning record isn’t assured with a closing schedule of Michigan, and then trips to Michigan State and Purdue before the Big Ten tourney in Indianapolis.

“We got to find a way to stick together,” Durham said. “Stay together, lock in, rally on the defensive end, execute on the offensive end.

“It’s small things we can correct. Come together and fight, and respond to the runs these teams are making on us.”

All the things Durham didn’t do against Michigan State, he did in the first 11 minutes on Wednesday night. His 14 points were six more than Rutgers managed. He finished with 20 points and four assists.

“Al really played well,” Miller said.

The problem — Durham didn’t have any backcourt help. IU’s five other guards scored a combined seven points on 2-for-19 shooting. Veterans Rob Phinisee and Armaan Franklin were a combined 0-for-10 for zero points.

Re-aggravating an ankle injury sidelined Franklin for the second half.

“He was not able to go,” Miller said. “That’s why didn’t play.”

Forward Trayce Jackson-Davis broke loose for 21 points and 11 rebounds.  Forward Race Thompson gutted out two points and nine rebounds despite wearing a protective mask in the aftermath of an elbow to the face from Tuesday’s practice.

It wasn’t nearly enough.

“When things aren’t going well, whether we lack confidence offensively or things become difficult, our response isn’t to run harder, talk more or concentrate more,” Miller said.

“We get quiet. This is not the time of year to do that.”

IU’s early 15-point lead turned into a four-point halftime deficit against Rutgers’ 7-for-8 three-point shooting burst.

Then it got worse.

“We are not responding to adversity as well as we need to,” Miller said.

“That comes from within. Focus can change quickly. You have to play for the right reasons at the right level. In this league, if you don’t, you get exposed.”

IU’s game plan focused on guard play (specifically limiting turnovers to less than 10), rebounding and toughness. It was about finding a way to score around the rim against 6-11 Myles Johnson, one of the Big Ten’s most ferocious defenders and shot blockers. It was about defending the Scarlet Knights’ four-guard attack into irrelevance.

It didn’t happen. Rutgers guards Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. each scored 20 points. The Hoosiers gave up 17 points on 13 turnovers.

“We have to protect the ball at any cost,” Durham said.

Durham was in can’t-miss mode from the opening tip. His 5-for-5 shooting start, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range, was good for 14 points and a 23-8 lead after 11 minutes.

Rutgers survived that onslaught, and a six-minute scoring drought, to rediscover its 3-point shooting. It hit five straight beyond the arc to close within two points at 27-24 with three minutes left.

The Scarlet Knights bombed in a couple more 3-pointers to finish off a 27-8 run for a 35-31 halftime lead.

Rutgers scored eight quick points to open the second half, and kept up the pressure to go ahead by 10, then 12, then 20. IU sought an answer that never came.

And yet, Miller said, it could. It starts with leadership.

“That’s something right now that has been lacking. We have to get our older guys to stick together. Focus on the right things when things don’t go well. We’re searching for an emotional guy who can rally us. We’re a quiet group. We don’t have an alpha personality. We need guys step up and pull things together.”