PISCATAWAY, N.J. — If Indiana is going to make a special run in this year’s NCAA Tournament, they will have to learn from tough games like tonight’s.
In front of a sell-out crowd at Jersey Mike’s Arena, Indiana (7-1, 0-1 B1G) dropped a 63-48 decision at Rutgers (6-2, 1-0). The Scarlet Knights’ suffocating defense and unrelenting rebounding effort, led by Caleb McConnell’s 10, drove the home team’s victory.
The deafening atmosphere was fitting of an intense Big Ten game between an undefeated foe and a rising Rutgers team that is coming off of back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
Prior to the game, we learned that Jalen Hood-Schifino, Anthony Leal, and Logan Duncomb were all out for Indiana. The report on Hood-Schifino was “back tightness” that kept him out of today’s contest. Leal’s injury was an ankle, and Duncomb remained out from an illness.
Meanwhile, Paul Mulcahy returned for Rutgers after missing the last four games. Mulcahy didn’t start, but he entered off the bench.
Trey Galloway drew the start for Indiana in place of JHS, and Galloway’s defensive intensity made an impact in the early going. He drew multiple charges, and the Scarlet Knights accumulated five team fouls before the first media timeout. Two of those five fouls came on Rutgers’ sole preseason All-Big Ten member, Cliff Omoruyi. He went to the bench for the rest of the first half.
Miller Kopp was Indiana’s only source of offense in the early going. He scored 11 of IU’s first 13 points, and accumulated his second-highest point total as a Hoosier in the game, dropping 21. That total was topped only by his 28 at Syracuse last season.
No Hoosier made a field goal in the first 8+ minutes of the game outside of Kopp, until Malik Reneau delivered in the paint. The Hoosiers looked sluggish for the vast majority of the first half, except for Kopp, who finished with 13 points in the first half.
IU’s defense, as well as Omoruyi’s extended stint on the bench, kept the Hoosiers in the game. However, IU’s rebounding served as their Achilles’ heel all night. Rutgers, who was out-rebounded by Temple, in the Scarlet Knights’ loss to the Owls on Nov. 18, destroyed IU on the glass, even without Omoruyi. Rutgers out-rebounded Indiana 22-11 in the first 13 minutes of the game, and the gap did not diminish all the much for the duration of the contest.
Caleb McConnell, who grabs just five rebounds per game on average, had eight in the first half. The Scarlet Knights held a 28-18 advantage on the boards at the break.
Indiana’s best run of the game came after halftime, as IU took their first lead since very early in the first half. Kopp’s three tied it, and Xavier Johnson’s basket put Indiana in front with 13:56 left.
Enter Derek Simpson. Rutger’s freshman point guard, who took over for the departed Geo Baker, scored nine straight points to not only give the Scarlet Knight’s the lead, but also put them well in front of the Hoosiers.
Those points from Simpson keyed a 17-0 run that elevated Rutgers’ lead to 15 points. Indiana never quite threatened again. IU did whittle the lead down to single digits, but the Scarlet Knights used the free throw line and intense defense to close out Indiana.
IU’s next regular season game is Wednesday night at home against Nebraska, back in Assembly Hall. Nebraska plays Sunday at No. 7 Creighton.
Featured Image: Rutgers Basketball