Indiana collapses at both ends of play in Big 10 loss

Rutgers guard Issa Thiam (35) passes off the ball as Indiana forward Juwan Morgan (13) and guard Zach McRoberts (15) defend during the first half of a game in the Big Ten men’s tournament Thursday in New York. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana guard Robert Johnson (4) shoots over Rutgers guard Geo Baker (0) during the first half of a game in the Big Ten men’s tournament Thursday in New York. (By The Associated Press)
Rutgers guard Issa Thiam (35) drives against Indiana guard Zach McRoberts (15) during the first half of a game in the Big Ten men’s tournament Thursday in New York. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana forward Juwan Morgan (13) shoots against Rutgers center Shaquille Doorson (2) during the first half of a game in the Big Ten men’s tournament Thursday in New York. (By The Associated Press)

Indiana turned in its best defensive performance of the entire 2017-18 season against Rutgers, as the Hoosiers held the Scarlet Knights to an astonishing 24.1 percent shooting.

Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, that was done on February 5, not March 1.

The Scarlet Knights rallied from a 24-8 first half deficit Thursday to knock off Indiana 76-69 in the second round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City in front of 13,996 fans.

“You can start with probably the first 12 (minutes) and say that’s who we’ve been,” first-year Indiana coach Archie Miller said afterward. “We had a great connection on the floor. And then I thought our offense sort of gave them some easy ones on the break – turnovers, run-outs, they started to get a little bit of confidence.”

Ironically, Thursday’s awful defensive outing by the Hoosiers (16-15) was against the same team that they had shut down less than a month ago. The outing was Indiana’s worst defensive game of the Big Ten season and second worst of the entire year.

“In the second half we were not able to stop the ball,” Miller said. “We just couldn’t. Whether it was (Rutgers guard Corey Sanders) at the basket. I thought Deshawn Freeman really hurt us throughout the game with his ability to play off the lane and drive.”

Sanders totaled 28 points to lead all scorers.

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Rutgers (15-18) became the first 14-seed to advance to the quarterfinal round of the tournament and will now face 3-seed Purdue (26-5) at (approximately) 9 p.m. Friday (BTN).

The Scarlet Knights were pathetic offensively to open the game, as they missed eight of their initial nine shots. Conversely, Indiana played very efficiently as it scored in transition, in the post, and from the perimeter.

The Hoosiers scored the game’s first eight points and eventually led 24-8 at the 8:09 mark of the opening period.

Remember that moment, Hoosier Nation, because that was the high point of the game.

“These games are not easy,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Any of them you’re going to be up sometimes and down sometimes, go through scoring droughts, defensive droughts, you just have to continue to stay the course. They did tonight. I’m really proud. Once we got the lead we did a really good job of keeping it.”

Over the final eight minutes and change of the first half, Rutgers forced Indiana into seven missed shots in eight attempts and five turnovers, as it closed the period on a 21-4 run.

That offensive ineptitude by Indiana continued following the intermission, as the Hoosiers missed their first four shots of the second half and never looked in rhythm.

“I just think we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be down the stretch,” Indiana senior guard Robert Johnson said. “We never really got over that hump where we strung stops together and buckets with those.”

But as poor as Indiana looked offensively, it was abhorrent defensively.

Rutgers is the worst offensive team in the league, but looked like the Houston Rockets against Indiana.

After averaging just 37 percent shooting in Big Ten play this year, the Scarlet Knights tore up Indiana over the final 20 minutes and made 68 percent of their shots.

The Hoosiers allowed Rutgers to connect on 58 percent of its shots for the game.

“They were able to do some things one-on-one that we just didn’t have an answer for the first time in a long time,” Miller said. “We just couldn’t answer the bell. Sixty-eight percent from the floor in the second half, allowing them to shoot 58 for the game, in all reality, to still be in the game, for the most part, was just disappointing.”

It was yet another exhibition of the schizophrenic Hoosiers, who have played well in Bloomington, but not so much on the road this season.

Indiana has only won three times in 11 games on the road this year, and those struggles have its foundation in porous defense.

In its nine Big Ten road games this season, Indiana has allowed the opposition to shoot at least 46 percent in six of those games.

The Hoosiers’ opponents shot a scorching 54 percent or better in three of those games.

At 16-15, Indiana could possibly receive a postseason tournament bid, if it so chooses to accept it, which Miller said Indiana would, but he isn’t holding his breath.

“I would be surprised if there’s postseason on the horizon for us,” Miller said, “even with a sixth-place finish in the Big Ten, I would be surprised. If something came along the line we would be really excited, because I think this team likes to play with one another and they’re a group that’s worked hard to improve.

“They have improved as any team I’ve been around, to be honest with you, in terms of where we started and finished. I’d be surprised and if they threw one our way, I’m sure we’d be ready but I would be surprised.”

Johnson scored 12 points, but missed 12 of his 16 shots, including 7 of 10 from 3-point range.

Junior forward Juwan Morgan scored 15 points in the defeat, while freshman guard Al Durham came off of the bench to score 10 points, all from the free throw line on 10 attempts.

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.