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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 02, 2018 12:50 am

Sour ending for Miller's first season at IU

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Before the game, I wrote that if Corey Sanders was shooting a lot of jump shots, Indiana would be in good shape. Whoops. Sanders is playing out of his mind in the Big Ten Tournament, shooting better than he has all season. He made some Kobe Bryant-esque fadeaways against the Hoosiers, including several in the final minutes that kept Indiana from going ahead.

Sanders' huge night (he finished with 28 points), combined with one of the worst shooting nights of the year for the Hoosiers, especially in the second half, led to a huge upset. To be clear, Indiana has been and remains a much better team than Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights were better tonight, and that's what matters.

After the game, Archie Miller said he'd be "surprised" if his team earns a berth in the NIT. If this really is the end for the coach's first season in Bloomington, it certainly concluded on a sour note. Losing to Indiana State and Rutgers was probably not how Miller envisioned beginning and ending this campaign. It would also be a tough ending for Robert Johnson, who passed Kirk Haston to move into 21st on the all-time IU scoring list in the game. He went 4 for 16 from the field, while using tremendous energy in trying to stop Sanders, who poured in baskets despite the high degree of difficulty Johnson's defense forced.

This game is especially disappointing because for about 12 minutes it looked as if the Hoosiers would cruise. They did exactly what they needed to do, jumping all over the Scarlet Knights and racing out to a 24-8 lead. Before the game, I figured that Rutgers would fold after such a start, with "Here we go again" being the prevailing feeling on the Scarlet Knight sideline. That's usually what happens to last-place teams. Instead, Rutgers cranked up the defensive pressure and starting hitting everything on offense. They took the lead before halftime and the Hoosiers were never in front again.

All that's left now is to see how far Rutgers can carry this newfound confidence its playing with. Can it scare Purdue? It already did once, falling 78-76 against the then-No. 3 Boilermakers in Piscataway, N.J. a few weeks ago. 

For IU, however, it will likely be a quick offseason. This was always going to be a transition season and the positives outweigh the negatives in Miller's first campaign. The improvement of freshmen Justin Smith and Aljami Durham, and the renewed energy on defense stand out as the signature achievements in Year 1 of the Archie Era. Still, losing to the No. 14 seed in the Big Ten Tournament will leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth until November.