INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What do you do in the aftermath of Thursday night’s 61-50 Big Ten tourney loss to Rutgers at Lucas Oil Stadium that left a 12-15 record and a six-game losing streak that could have been so much more?
“It’s very frustrating to not make the NCAA Tournament,” guard Armaan Franklin said. “We have to keep building. We have to trust each other, trust the coaches. Keep moving forward. Not dwell on the past, but look to the future.”
IU played in front of around 3,000 fans, probably 10 times more than most games during this pandemic-altered season.
It didn’t help.
“It felt good to play in front of fans,” forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “It’s sad that we disappointed them. It’s something we’ll have to live with.”
Not even career years from the All-America Jackson-Davis, Franklin, Race Thompson, Aljami Durham and Jerome Hunter could overcome bad shooting and the inability to win crunch-time minutes.
“There were expectations coming into this year,” coach Archie Miller said. “We had our opportunities. We didn’t cash in.
“Performance matters. We were inconsistent.
“At the end of the day, we be fine. We’ve got good guys. Guys who battle.”
Big Ten tourney misery remains an unwanted Hoosier tradition. IU is now 13-23 in this event.
Beyond that, the Hoosiers haven’t made the NCAA tourney since 2016, when they won the Big Ten title and reached the Sweet Sixteen.
“The reality is this is what it is,” Miller said. “We weren’t good enough to capitalize on our opportunities. We’ll take some inventory and do everything we can to get better. I know we will (get better).”
Seventh-seeded Rutgers (15-10) beat IU for the third time this season. It advances to play second-seed Illinois (19-6) Friday night.
“Rutgers is a good team,” Miller said. “They can beat you in a lot of ways.”
Season-long problems with free throw and 3-point shooting surfaced for the last time. IU was 6-for-15 from the line and 2-for-16 beyond the arc. It basically didn’t make a field goal in the game’s final 10 minutes.
“We had a lot of good shots,” Jackson-Davis said. “We missed layups. We missed eight free throws down the stretch. The inability to put the ball in the basket just killed us.”
Jackson-Davis finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Ferocious early defense rocked Rutgers into 25 percent shooting and six turnovers. Attacking Hoosier offense sparked by that defense made all things possible – for about 10 minutes.
Then Rutgers rallied. Indiana rallied. With 12 minutes left in the game, an 8-0 run gave the Hoosiers a 44-41 lead.
Then it all disappeared.
Miller said he thought “fatigue set in.”
“We didn’t convert around the rim. (Rutgers does) a good job with their defense. We got bottled up in the second half.
“You’ve got to make some free throws. You’ve got to make some open looks to have any chance to advance.”
Pre-game speculation about injuries to Thompson (broken nose, battered face, sprained ankle) and Franklin (foot) was answered quickly. Thompson started. Franklin, who had missed the previous three games, came off the bench five minutes into the contest.
“There was no doubt that I would play,” Franklin said. “I felt good enough to play. They asked me if I wanted to play. I said yes.”
Indiana opened with an inside basket and then a dunk from Jackson-Davis and a 3-pointer from guard Aljami Durham. The 5-for-7 shooting delivered an 11-5 lead.
With Jackson-Davis starting 4-for-4 from the field, the Hoosiers built a 10-point advantage.
Then Rutgers found its 3-point range — making four straight — to rally for a 33-32 halftime lead despite Jackson-Davis’ 13 points and four rebounds.
The Scarlet Knights built a pair of five-point leads to start the second half. IU surged back. A jumper from Franklin and a dunk from Jackson-Davis highlighted an 8-0 run to push the Hoosiers ahead 44-41.
After a brief back-and-forth stretch, Rutgers hit consecutive three-pointers to surge ahead 55-48 with five minutes left.
Durham ended a seven-minute Indiana scoring drought with a pair of free throws with 2:35 remaining to make it 55-50.
The Hoosiers never scored again.
“The game is simple when it goes in the basket,” Miller said. “We were inconsistent throughout the year. You’ve got to shoot it consistently at a high clip from a lot of guys to have a chance.”