It was a senior night no Hoosier fan wanted to miss, especially with Indiana’s hopes of making the NCAA tournament up for grabs.
The tension was exceptionally high for Indiana and Rutgers as both were on the brink of making their tournament dreams come true. Indiana entered the game Wednesday night on a two-game win streak, looking to solidify its chances of appearing in the NCAA tournament.
The Scarlet Knights were right behind the Hoosiers in the standings and also looking to qualify for the tournament, but there could only be one winner.
Indiana men’s basketball has been known all season for its solid defensive presence early in the first half of games. The standard did not change Wednesday night for Indiana, starting the game with aggravating pressure and high energy to knock Rutgers out of focus early.
Indiana denied movement in the passing lanes and forced opponents into coughing up turnovers, feeding off the energy of Hoosier nation to scramble Rutgers’ gameplay. Indiana’s defense was too bothersome for Rutgers and held senior guard Ron Harper Jr. to only 5 points in the first half.
All-American big-man junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis brought his grittiness to the occasion, dominating the glass to score 11 of his 19 points in the first half. The resilience of Jackson-Davis’ game made Rutgers pay big time, with his ability to slither around defenders creating numerous opportunities.
Jackson-Davis was not alone, with his partner-in-crime Race Thompson adding to the equation by scoring 12 points and combining for three rebounds to boost Indiana to a 16-12 lead. The big-man duo were the only Hoosiers to score Indiana’s first 16 points in the first half, until sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo scored his first bucket with 10 minutes left in the half.
No substitution player of Indiana produced as much Geronimo did, pushing to give Indiana new momentum to build off of. Senior guard Xavier Johnson continued to show his growth and ability to play more consistently, adding 13 points to Indiana’s point total.
However, Indiana’s energy changed early in the second half, giving Rutgers room to build a 10-0 run and take a 38-37 lead. Indiana continued to answer, though, aided by Johnson’s ability to finish aggressively around the basket whenever necessary.
The game remained close as the clock ran down, with Rutgers senior guard Geo Baker finishing a game-changing layup to tie the game at 52 points with 5:30 remaining. But Indiana had a hard time knocking down shots, as both senior guards Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp struggled to find momentum in their shooting.
After Stewart finally knocked down a 3-point shot after shooting 2-9 previously in the game, Harper iced the game with two seconds left to break the tie and secure the 66-63 win for Rutgers.
It was tough to see Indiana let an opportunity of a lifetime — making the NCAA tournament — slip away from its hands. The struggles of shooting, rotations and defense cost Indiana the game, which means another failed season of Indiana men’s basketball.