Thursday, March 01, 2018 11:30 pm
(14) Rutgers 76, (6) Indiana 69: Quick thoughts
DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette
How it Happened
Much like the first game between these teams, Indiana (16-15) blitzed the Scarlet Knights out of the gate. The Hoosiers scored the first eight points of the game and within eight minutes of the opening tip, they led 17-3. Indiana didn't shoot particularly well at the outset, but its defense was so superb that it didn't matter.
The Scarlet Knights (15-18) missed their first five shots and nine of their first 10, as the Indiana defense set the tone early. This was what Archie Miller and Juwan Morgan were talking about Tuesday when they insisted the Hoosiers were rejuvenated team after taking the weekend off.
The Hoosier lead eventually ballooned to as many as 16 at 24-8, coincidentally the exact same advantage they held in the first half of the previous meeting between these teams. It looked like it would be an Indiana rout with seven minutes left in the first half, but as I wrote before the game, this Rutgers team did not come to the tournament to be anyone's doormat.
With 6:53 left in the first half, Deshawn Freeman made a layup, then he made another. It was the start of a huge 11-0 run for the Scarlet Knights that culminated with back-to-back steal-dunk sequences from Geo Baker. The latter of the two sliced the Hoosier lead to just 26-23 and forced Archie Miller to burn a timeout late in the first half. In all Rutgers hit seven straight shots, six of them layups or dunks, while the Hoosiers missed four in a row.
The timeout did nothing to stem the tide. Rutgers eventually made nine straight attempts, the majority of them with forward Juwan Morgan on the bench with two fouls. By halftime, the Scarlet Knights led 29-28 and were up to 50 percent shooting from the field after languishing in the mid-20s much of the night. Freeman led his team with 11 points, while Devonte Green had seven early points to lead the Hoosiers, but turned the ball over twice late in the half.
The break did nothing to change the course of the game. Rutgers came out firing just as it had been going into the first half. The Scarlet Knights extended their lead to six at 40-34 with 14:31 to go, with most of the baskets coming close to the rim. It was almost possible to see the Scarlet Knights' confidence growing possession-by-possession. There was none of the tentativeness that had defined the first 12 minutes of the game.
Juwan Morgan tried to take over the game early in the second half and scored four points in the first minutes of the second half, but Freeman did an excellent job of defending him in the post, making him work for every shot. With Robert Johnson ice cold from the field, Morgan had little help on the offensive end and the Scarlet Knights were able to key on him.
After Morgan converted an old-fashioned 3-point play with about 16 minutes left, the Hoosiers went more than seven minutes without a field goal, missing six straight shots. Indiana was able to stay close in large part due to freshman Aljami Durham, who twice in short order got fouled shooting a 3-pointer and made all six free throws. With just eight minutes left, Indiana had sliced its deficit to 49-46.
In the final minutes, Indiana made one final attempt to get back into the game after falling behind by eight. Johnson and fellow senior guard Josh Newkirk hit back-to-back 3s in the final minutes, the first two Indiana made in the entire second half. In the end, though, Corey Sanders was just too good. Sanders wasn't a good shooter all season long, but he made some incredibly difficult jumpers to propel his team to a win.
Player of the Game: Deshawn Freeman
Corey Sanders was tremendous for Rutgers, finishing with 28 points, but Freeman was the real star. The senior forward scored 15 points, the most he'd had since Jan. 10 against Michigan State and grabbed eight rebounds. On defense, Freeman was a star, holding Morgan in check in the second half in the post. He played extremely hard, denying the Indiana forward the ball as often as possible and forcing him to catch the ball much further from the basket than he'd like.
Facts and Figures
The Scarlet Knights become the first No. 14 seed to reach the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. ... Rutgers ended the first half on a 17-2 run. Indiana made just one field goal in the final 8:30 of the first half. ... Johnson scored 12 points, moving him past Kirk Haston for 21st on the all-time IU scoring list. He shot just 4 for 16 from the field and 2 for 9 from beyond the arc. ... Rutgers shot 58 percent from the field, including 68 percent in the second half, after hitting just 43.6 percent of its shots the first time these teams met. Indiana shot 34 percent in the second half. ... The Hoosiers went 25 for 29 from the foul line. Durham had 10 points, all from the free throw line. He did not miss there. ... After scoring at least 13 points in four straight games, freshman Justin Smith had just four points on four shots. ... Indiana lost in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament for the second time in three years after beating Iowa last season.
The Hoosiers are likely NIT-bound and will have to wait until that tournament's selection show next Sunday to find out exactly where and when they'll be playing. If they do play in the NIT, their first game will be either March 13 or March 14.