Rutgers junior guard Geo Baker stared into the camera as he landed with just over two minutes left to play. He had just put IU redshirt junior center Joey Brunk on a poster, soaring over the big man as he reached back with the ball in his right hand before throwing it down for a powerful slam dunk. A sold-out Rutgers Athletic Center crowd chanted Baker’s name in a thunderous roar.
It was the final blow on a night when sloppy ball handling, shooting shortcomings and road woes had all soared back to the forefront for the Hoosiers.
IU lost to Rutgers 59-50 on Wednesday. The Hoosiers fell to 13-4 on the season and 3-3 in the Big Ten. IU has still yet to win a game on the road.
"The game is dictated by the team that sets the rules," IU head coach Archie Miller said. "Rutgers set the rules right at the tap."
It was a loss filled with the offensive inconsistencies that have plagued IU throughout the 2019 season. A seven-minute scoring drought stretching from late in the first half — just after the Hoosiers had taken their first lead of the game — and into the second saw the Scarlet Knights build a lead they never let go.
Rutgers led by as many as 17 points and were in front for 36 minutes of the game. IU turned the ball over 16 times, and Rutgers had 18 points off those turnovers.
“Just didn’t take care of the ball in key stretches,” Miller said on IU’s postgame radio show. “I thought Rutgers played extremely hard.”
IU’s reliance on interior scoring was emphasized more against Rutgers than it has been at any other point this season. The Hoosiers only made two field goals from outside the paint. Both were 3-pointers and both were made in garbage time. IU shot 2-18 on 3-pointers.
IU scored 34 of its 50 points in the paint. The 10 remaining points after the two 3-pointers all came from the free throw line. The Hoosiers only shot 12 free throws in total, a quantity far below the mark Miller has stressed his team needs to reach. Miller wants his team to make more free throws than the opponent attempts. That didn’t happen in Piscataway, New Jersey.
The Hoosiers’ 50 points was their lowest output of the season. IU only had two points from its bench, scored by redshirt freshman forward Jerome Hunter.
Junior forward Justin Smith was IU’s leading scorer with 15 points. Brunk had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Al Durham had 10 points as well.
IU’s defense played at a high level overall, holding Rutgers to 59 points and 4-15 on 3-pointers. But the inability IU displayed to make any shot other than right in front of the basket made that defensive effort for naught.
IU will remain on the road for its next game, playing Nebraska over 1,300 miles from Rutgers. The Hoosiers beat Nebraska 96-90 in overtime in the previous matchup in Bloomington. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska.
"We've got to learn from it," Miller said. "On the road right now in this league is brutal. Every game we play feels like this. You got another opportunity coming up on Saturday. We've got to regroup, focus, lock in and move on to the next one."