Years from now, Indiana men’s basketball fans will fondly remember the first week of February 2023 as the week the Hoosiers conquered their most hated rival.
And hey, the win against No. 1 Purdue on Saturday wasn’t half bad, either.
No. 18 Indiana defeated No. 24 Rutgers 66-60 Tuesday night, the Hoosiers’ first victory over the Scarlet Knights since 2019. In case you forgot what happened in the meantime, here’s a quick recap.
Two seasons ago, Rutgers beat Indiana twice in the regular season and once more in the Big Ten Tournament, effectively ending the tenure of former head coach Archie Miller. Last year, the Scarlet Knights spoiled the Hoosiers’ senior night with a game-winning 3-pointer from then-senior forward Ron Harper Jr. Two months ago, Rutgers clobbered Indiana 63-45 in Piscataway, New Jersey. And that’s just a sampling.
While I doubt most Indiana fans think of Rutgers as more than the Big Ten’s awkward cousin from the East Coast, I also know few teams have caused the Hoosiers as much misery over the last four years as the Scarlet Knights.
Early on, that agony seemed like a distant memory. Indiana held a 14-point lead with just under eight minutes left in the first half, Rutgers looked lost on offense and the energy in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall was as good as you could hope for on a Tuesday night.
The arena was slightly less packed than usual by the 6:30 p.m. tip-off, which probably had something to do with IU’s fine scholars still being in their evening classes. Personally, I’ve never had a class nearly as exciting as a two-handed jam, but maybe I just had the wrong supply chain professors.
Nonetheless, the somewhat shorthanded crowd brought plenty of vitriol and blossomed into a full-blown hullabaloo in no time. Fans grew louder by the minute, likely fueled by a combination of school spirit and the creeping fear that Rutgers would crush their hopes yet again.
While that unease ebbed at times, it never truly disappeared. You could hear frustration ripple throughout the stands every time a Hoosier jumper rimmed out or a Scarlet Knight snagged a fortunate offensive rebound. Like Rocky Balboa in the fifth round of the fight or Tito’s in the fifth shot of the night, the Scarlet Knights simply refused to go down.
Fortunately for Indiana, neither did graduate forward Miller Kopp or senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Jackson-Davis’ 20 points and 18 rebounds made him the first player in Indiana history to log 2,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds. He owns basically every notable distinction at IU outside of graduating summa cum laude, and even then I hesitate to make claims without seeing a transcript.
Meanwhile, Kopp has been a consistently staunch defender all season, but his scoring totals through much of January were lackluster to say the least. He scored 18 points on Tuesday night, his highest total since he logged 21 the last time Indiana played Rutgers. He seemed due for a big game, and it came when the Hoosiers desperately needed one.
Junior guard Trey Galloway and graduate forward Race Thomson combined for just 10 points, and standout freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino was relatively underwhelming outside of a truly ridiculous behind-the-back reverse layup in the first half that left fans equal parts delighted and flummoxed.
But when the Hoosiers seemingly couldn’t buy a bucket, Kopp or Jackson-Davis always had one to spare. The result was a victory that felt more like a rush of relief for fans than a flood of joy. But that’s playing against Rutgers for you — anything north of abject disappointment is a victory in and of itself.
Good teams find ways to win, no matter how stress-inducing it is for their fans. Indiana did just that. If you’re a member of the Hoosier faithful, take a deep breath. You don’t have to be worried or anxious. Rutgers can’t hurt you anymore.