By Adam Nardelli
Following an 81-47 loss to Iowa, the Rutgers men’s basketball team hoped to bounce back and play spoiler against the Indiana Hoosiers, who have a strong chance to make the NCAA Tournament. Indiana, who was 18-9 coming into the game, came off a heart-wrenching 67-63 home loss to Purdue this past Thursday. Two straight losses for the Hoosiers would do nothing to improve their chances once March comes around.
Both teams came out with high intensity making for an up-tempo and at times sloppy style of play early in the first half. The Hoosiers and Scarlet Knights were knotted up at 16 near the midway point of the opening 20 minutes, giving hope to all Scarlet Knights fans at the RAC. Greg Lewis and Kadeem Jack executed a perfect pick and roll ending with Jack slamming home an open dunk exciting the crowd.
Rutgers, however, couldn’t keep up with Indiana’s level of play with the Hoosiers increasing the lead to 21-16 as the first half continued. The score never got any closer. Rutgers continued to make buckets, but so did Indiana, with Tom Crean’s ball club answering every ounce of the Scarlet Knights attempt to climb closer and closer. Indiana Forward Troy Williams then threw down a monstrous dunk extending the lead to 30-23, causing every Indiana fan to jump out of their seats.
Indiana led 40-28 with just seconds left in the first half when Rutgers’ Center Greg Lewis tipped in a buzzer beater to cut the lead to 40-30 at the half. The buzzer beater ignited the Scarlet Knights bench, and the crowd for the moment, with many in the RAC wondering if the momentum could carry over to the second half.
Unfortunately for Rutgers that would not be the case. Indiana opened the second half with a 9-0 run, looking refreshed and energized. Any remnants of momentum from the first half was nowhere to be found for the Scarlet Knights. Indiana made some crucial adjustments during halftime that destroyed any hopes Rutgers had while being down 10 at the half. “We changed defenses because we were certainly concerned that Myles Mack, who we have a ton of respect for, was going to come out and try to take the game over…We made some plays. We got some shots, and it started to work for us”, said Indiana coach Tom Crean about the opening of the second half.
While Indiana entered the second half strengthened and wanting to build a big lead, Rutgers looked slow and out of sorts. The Scarlet Knights were plagued by turnovers and lazy passes that helped Indiana turn once a comfortable lead at the end of the first half into a blowout in the second half. The Hoosiers stretched the lead to 57-35 just 5:31 into the second half.
Indiana Guard Nick Zeisloft came out with the hot hand in the second half, totaling three 3-pointers for the game. Zeisloft’s three’s in the second half contributed to the increased demoralization of the Scarlet Knights after the Intermission. Indiana forward Hanner Masquera-Parea, who hadn’t been in the starting lineup since mid-January due to an injury, posted a career-high 13 points, while Hoosier stars Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. each contributed 17 points.
Despite the 84-54 loss for Rutgers, Head Coach Eddie Jordan still brought up positives that he can take from the game. “I like our patience on offense. I like our spacing and our unselfishness, [but] we didn’t finish plays”, Jordan said of his team in the press conference. Although Rutgers seemed to lack energy and vitality, especially in the second half, Jordan said he has no concerns with a lack of fire from his players. “For the most part we got back on defense, for the most part we protected the rim in transition”, Jordan said in response to questions about his team’s drive and liveliness. Jordan attributed their issues more to a lack of success with being able to matchup with Indiana’s small lineup.
When asked about what correctable mistakes can be made going into Thursday’s matchup against Purdue, Jordan cited a couple specific areas in need of improvement. “We just want to keep continuing to get better in two areas, defending and rebounding…and our behavior, our demeanor”, Jordan said. Although Jordan believes his team still is motivated to go out and play each game as hard as they can, understanding how to produce better body language and conduct on the court has been a struggle. The Scarlet Knights head coach attributed these difficulties to the rebuilding phase the program is going through, saying Rutgers just is not the “high-powered engine” that other teams in the Big Ten are as a result of rebuilding.
Looking at other areas for Rutgers to build on based on last night, center Greg Lewis produced a career-high 13 points. “He always does everything right to me. He’s here early. He’s here late working on his game. He’s top of the list on this team for what I want from our players.” Lewis, who is a redshirt junior, showed he has the ability to be a significant contributor as a force down low, something for the fan trying to find a story from today that doesn’t make them nauseous.
Rutgers will next be in action this Thursday night when they travel to Purdue, tipoff will be at 9 pm.