IU Coach Tom Crean said he hates the word “grind,” but his team did it Saturday in a win against ?Rutgers.
The Hoosiers (16-6, 6-3) avoided a late-game scare with the help of crucial defensive stops down the stretch to defeat the Scarlet Knights (10-13, 2-8) 72-64 at Assembly Hall.
“We had to be really tough today to figure out how to win,” Crean said. “We tried to push a few buttons that would do that. I thought our guys ?really responded.”
IU’s most notable response came in the final seven minutes on the defensive end, where the team had struggled in the previous two losses.
The Hoosiers kept defensive composure with seven defensive stops in the game’s final 10 possessions. At the other end, they were a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line in sealing the conference win.
Freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. credited the defensive effort to a conversation in the huddle during a timeout with the game tied 56-56.
With the game hanging in the balance, Blackmon said the team knew it needed to be tougher on the defensive end to avoid a loss at home.
“I don’t think they got any easy buckets after that,” Blackmon ?Jr. said.
Rutgers didn’t exactly do itself any favors during that stretch, either.
After a Myles Mack 3-pointer with 11:33 left gave the Scarlet Knights a seven-point lead, things began to fall apart. Rutgers couldn’t hold onto the ball in key situations, turning the ball over three times in the game’s final 5:30, and IU took advantage.
One killer mental error came when Bishop Daniels stepped out of bounds on the baseline with Rutgers trying to cut into a four-point deficit with less than two ?minutes remaining.
Instead of Rutgers potentially climbing back to within one possession, IU took over and extended the lead to six with a pair of free throws at the other end.
For Rutgers, it was yet another inconsistent performance that led to a sixth-consecutive Big Ten loss.
“We played well for 35 minutes,” Rutgers Coach Eddie Jordan said. “You have to play better than well the last five minutes. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to play better than well. But our team gave a good effort.”
IU’s success beyond the 3-point line appeared to return. Junior guard Nick Zeisloft hit a pair of 3-pointers to give IU a lead and breathing room down the stretch.
The Hoosiers finished 8-for-19 from beyond the arc with four Hoosiers each connecting on two 3-pointers. Blackmon led the way for IU with 20 points off of an ?8-for-16 shooting effort.
Sophomore forward Troy Williams, who did not start for the first time this season after returning from suspension, recorded what Crean called “an Indiana triple-double” with 14 points, 12 rebounds ?and 11 deflections.
The win, at least momentarily, puts IU back on track with a road trip to play Big Ten-leading ?Wisconsin on tap for Tuesday.
And while Blackmon said the team is happy to have solved a few of its issues on the defensive end, the team is still looking for more.
“We’re happy to be in the mix, but we’re not satisfied at all,” Blackmon said. “We know we had a couple games that we could have got under our belt, so next week at Wisconsin we know that it’s going to be a great environment and a huge game, so I think we’re going to come prepared for it.”