It was Senior Night for the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall, but this game had larger implications for every player on Indiana. Win and you almost guarantee yourself a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Lose and your season likely ends in the NIT. How did the Cream and Crimson handle the pressure?
It was the usual starting five for head coach Mike Woodson and the Hoosiers as Xavier Johnson, Miller Kopp, Parker Stewart, Trayce Jackson-Davis, and Race Thompson got things started for IU against Rutgers
Everything ran through Jackson-Davis down low to start the game. The 6-foot-9 forward got it going early as he had nine points, three rebounds, an assist, and a block through the first five minutes of the ball game.
At the under-16 media timeout, the Hoosiers led the Scarlet Knights 12-6 with 14:36 remaining in the first half.
The frontcourt of Rutgers struggled to defend Jackson-Davis and Thompson throughout the entire first half. Indiana’s two most reliable players combined for 22 of Indiana’s 32 first half points. But it was not just on offense where the Rutgers frontcourt struggled as they were unable to get anything going on the offensive side of the floor.
The Scarlet Knights had to rely on a Ron Harper Jr. 35-foot three-point basket and Geo Baker step back threes to keep them in the game early.
Indiana’s offense, ,on the other hand could not buy a three-pointer at the start. The Hoosiers started the game 6-of-8 from inside the arc and 0-of-4 from long distance. The bigger problem? Indiana’s inability to feed the paint after they found success and force three-point attempts allowed Steve Pikiell’s team to rally.
When TJD went to the bench, Indiana struggled to find any scoring going 0-for-4 from the floor and have a scoring drought lasted over three minutes. With just under six minutes remaining in the first half the Hoosiers led 21-18.
Xavier Johnson ended the 3:40 scoring drought with a long distance three-point basket from the wing off a TJD ball screen.
In the first half Indiana forced seven turnovers compared to Rutgers forcing just three. Indiana was able to find success scoring off those opportunities as they stacked up nine points off turnovers compared to the Scarlet Knights zero points off turnovers.
At the break Indiana led 32-25 in large part to the play of Jackson-Davis. Rutgers did not do themselves any favors as they shot zero percent (0-for-4) from the charity stripe while the Hoosiers shot an impressive 86 percent (6-for-7)
TJD got things going in the second half, just as he did in the first half, with a thunderous left-handed slam.
After trailing by nine, Rutgers went on a 10-0 scoring run propelled by two Ron Harper Jr. three-pointers to take their first lead since the opening possession of the game.
After recording just three first half turnovers the Hoosiers stacked up four total turnovers in the second half alone in just four minutes of play. Indiana trailed 38-37 with 15:27 remaining in the game.
What do you do when you give up a lead?
You take it right back.
Indiana turned up the pressure on defense forcing multiple turnovers the lead to five points from Xavier Johnson as the Hoosiers regained the lead 44-39.
There was plenty more of Johnson in the first ten minutes of the second half as the Pitt transfer tallied eight points, two steals, and two assists all in the first nine minutes of play in the second half.
Something that the Hoosiers missed over the last month was a guy whose productivity would not always show up on the stat sheet. That player is Rob Phinisee. His impact on the defensive end is unmatched and his ability to guard the opposing teams best ball handler night in and night out is something Hoosier fans must appreciate
With 5:29 remaining in the ball game Rutgers tied it up at 52 apiece as Geo Baker drove through the defense to score on a layup.
Geo Baker knocked down his third three-point basket of the game with 2:34 remaining to put Rutgers back in front, 57-56.
Still trailing by one and under a minute to play, IU’s veteran forwards, Thompson and Jackson-Davis, missed close baskets, and an opportunity to take the lead slipped away.
Then, a controversial moment occurred at Assembly Hall. With 19 seconds remaining and Rutgers up by three, guard Paul Mulcahy picked up a flagrant-two foul and an ejection for throwing a reactionary punch at Xavier Johnson after Johnson committed a personal foul. After making both free throws on both ends, IU trailed by three with the basketball.
After a held ball, Parker Stewart made his biggest shot of the season. Coming off a screen, Stewart drilled a three from the left side to even up the game at 63 with just over 10 seconds remaining.
Then, Ron Harper Jr. decided to suck the soul out of Assembly Hall.
With just 2.1 seconds remaining, the big time shot maker added one more to his career highlight reel as he drained the game-winning basket that sent Indiana fans home wondering if, for a sixth straight year, IU would miss out on March Madness.
The Hoosiers lost in heartbreaking fashion, 66-63. IU was led by Jackson-Davis with 19 points and nine assists while Johnson pitched in 13 points, three steals, and two assists.
The Hoosiers will look to walk in to Mackey Arena on Saturday, March 5 at 2:00 EST to face off against the No. 8 ranked Purdue Boilermakers.
Featured Image: Rutgers Athletics