Tonight was exactly what Indiana needed. It was essentially a get-well game for the Hoosiers after the toughest three-game stretch of their season and they played the way they needed to against a Rutgers team that spent its powder against Purdue on Saturday.
Rutgers looked tired for most of the night and Indiana took advantage, moving the ball well on offense (although still struggling to hit open looks) and locking down the paint on defense. Holding an opponent to 24 percent shooting is an accomplishment, even if that opponent is 2-11 in the Big Ten and running some painful-to-watch offensive sets.
Just about everyone on the Indiana roster was impressive in one way or another on Monday, especially Juwan Morgan (as always), Robert Johnson (19 points and he found his shooting stroke again), and Freddie McSwain Jr. (nine rebounds in his second straight start). One of the only players who struggled was Josh Newkirk, who went 0 for 4 from the field and had just one point in 15 minutes.
Newkirk was benched for this game in favor of Devonte Green and it was obvious why tonight. Green is just a better playmaker than Newkirk right now, and he can hit shots that have an incredibly high degree of difficulty. He's still very streaky, but Archie Miller is probably looking toward the future with that move. We'll know the motivation for sure against Minnesota, as Green clearly earned another start with nine points and four assists. If Newkirk is back in the lineup against the Golden Gophers, his benching was simply a message from Miller, rather than a strategic move.
The only other blemish on the Hoosiers' ledger was their free-throw shooting. They went a disastrous 8 for 18 from the line, including one series in which Johnson missed three straight free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt. The backsliding at the line is disappointing because Indiana took a definite step forward in that department against Michigan State.
Still, it's tough to dwell on the negatives after a game like this. The schedule finally loosens up a little now, with the Hoosiers playing only twice (both times at home) over the next nine days. They could come out of that pair of games 8-7 in Big Ten play, with a real chance to go 10-8 in the league, a feat that would have seemed close to impossible after the way the season started. The team has clearly improved over the last several weeks. Now it's finally got a victory to show for it.