NEW YORK — The epitaph on IU’s offense this season only reads one word: inconsistent.
Fittingly so, the final nail in IU’s coffin was its offense. A unit that was its limiting factor all season long cost the Hoosiers a chance at a postseason run.
After a hot start to their opening game of the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers’ offense killed any hope IU had of playing rival Purdue in the quarterfinals.
For the first time in history, IU lost to Rutgers, 76-69.
The Hoosiers raced out to a 16-point lead in the first half, but for the next 28 minutes, IU's offense was completely out-of-sync.
“They were pressuring the ball and were pressuring the passing lanes,” freshman forward Justin Smith said. "So, we couldn’t really move the ball and most of our offense is moving the ball from side-to-side. They took that away from us which really made our offense stagnant and we never really got our rhythm back after the first eight minutes.”
Rattled by Rutgers' pressure, IU’s offense never figured things out after its opening run. The final statistics show that picture clearly.
IU’s offense finished the game shooting 35.8 prercent from the field and the Hoosiers turned the ball over 11 times.
Little things turned into big things for IU. Passes were errant, shots came out of the offensive flow and the ball didn’t zip around the perimeter.
“They were jumping lanes, jumping gaps,” senior forward Collin Hartman said. “Guys were picking up the ball instead of keeping their dribble and then we would get stuck and throw long passes and they’d jump the lanes. It’s just the little things.”
Nearly every single time IU turned the ball over, Rutgers converted it into easy fastbreak baskets.
Given a chance to fix its teetering offense at halftime, nothing changed.
It sputtered until the end of the game with little improvement.
While its defense struggled to contain the Scarlet Knights after that early period, IU often let its poor defense affect its offense.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” junior forward Zach McRoberts said. “Obviously, our defense goes into our offense, so getting stops helps. Obviously, them making tough shots like that is tough to get flow in transition wise. I think that was part of the issue.”
For most of the season, IU has turned to junior forward Juwan Morgan to lead its offense. He had become one of the most reliable weapons in the Big Ten, but Rutgers neutralized him Thursday.
"I thought they did a great job of establishing that they weren’t going to let Juwan catch the ball,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “And usually we play through him. This team really relies on being able to play through him.”
With Morgan hampered by Rutgers defense, no one else stepped up for IU.
In what will likely be their last games as Hoosiers, IU’s senior guards, Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk, combined to shoot 5 of 23 from the field. The result would’ve been even worse if not for freshman guard Al Durham making all 10 of his free throws.
In the end, when IU got taken out of what it wanted to do offensively, there was nowhere else to turn. Its inconsistent scoring meant its stay in the Big Apple would be short.
“I think we just stopped being aggressive,” sophomore guard Devonte Green said. “We weren’t attacking as much as we were earlier in the game. We just lost that mindset.”
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