Indiana has had a brutal week already with losses to Ohio State and rival Purdue on the road. A return home to The Assembly Hall was welcomed and so was playing B1G bottom feeder - Rutgers. Rutgers came in as one of the worst offensive teams in the country which seemed like it would be just what the doctor order for a Hoosier defense that has struggled mightily all season long. Coach Crean also decided to change the lineup by moving Nick Zeisloft and Stanford Robinson in and Troy Williams and out for defensive purposes.
Things didn't start out as planned though. Besides a very early lead, the Hoosiers didn't take a lead until 3:56 to go in the half with a James Blackmon Jr bucket. Rutgers shot 46% in the first half which may have been more of an indictment on the Hoosier defense than anything. On the positive side, Indiana did win the boards 20-14 in the half which ultimately allowed them to get more opportunities that were sorely needed as Indiana continued its poor shooting for most of the half before closing on a run to get to 39%. Troy Williams did bring quite a bit of energy off the bench and ended the half with 9 points and 8 rebounds. Rutgers kept it close though as Indiana only led 32-30 heading into the break.
The second half started with an onslaught from Myles Mack who canned four three pointers to give life to Rutgers after stalling a bit to end the first half. At one point early in the half - Rutgers was shooting 78% from three - which is incredible given where they came into the game at which was #306 nationally. Water found it's level though and Indiana got hot down the stretch led by a couple key three pointers from Nick Zeisloft and the Hoosiers were able to pull this one out 72-64. Troy Williams ended with an "Indiana triple double" with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 deflections. Here are some of my post game thoughts:
Post Game Thoughts
Indiana has had a successful first half of the B1G - The Hoosiers are now tied for second place in the conference at 6-3 half way through conference play. Coming into the season, it was clear to everyone that the first half would be significantly more difficult and I still believe that is true. Indiana does still has 4 road games left - but two of them are at Rutgers and Northwestern where there could be more Indiana fans than opposing fans. The Hoosiers have set themselves up very well for a solid close to the season given a number of those games are going to be in the friendly confines of The Assembly Hall. While there has been a lot of negative talk this past week with the tough road losses - the Hoosiers are in a much better spot at this point than almost anyone predicted to start the year. Blackmon made clear after the game that Indiana isn't happy with that though saying - "We know we are in the mix, but we are not satisfied at all."
"We know we are in the mix, but we are not satisfied at all." - James Blackmon Jr.
Troy Williams provides spark off the bench - Coach Crean changed the starting lineup to try and find more defense and that wasn't tremendously effective. What was effective though was Williams off the bench. This Indiana team seems to be driven by what Troy brings on a nightly basis, and he brought energy and toughness this afternoon in Bloomington as he pulled down 12 rebounds to go along with 14 points. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said afterwards when referring to Williams' play- "He almost doesn't have a conscious. That's a good thing sometimes." Williams brings such an extra dimension to the offense when he is "on" and besides needing to develop a mid-range jumper - simply just needs to become more consistent on the floor. If Indiana is going to have success down the stretch - it will be Williams leading the way.
Indiana's defense didn't "get well" in this one - This was the perfect opportunity for the Hoosiers to try some new things defensively and try to find something to work with the rest of the season. Rutgers came in ranked #273 overall in offense which is by far the worst offensive team Indiana will face in conference play. You wouldn't have known that watching this one though as Rutgers got most of what it wanted all game long and ended shooting 44% from the field which really didn't do their shooting justice due to some struggles late in both halves. As I mentioned above, Rutgers was shooting 78% from three at one point during the second half which is shocking for the lack of shooting talent this team has. Coach Crean made clear afterwards though that it wasn't for the lack of trying saying "If the season ended today, this would be one of the hardest working teams I have ever coached." It will be very interesting to watch this team the rest of the way and see if they can find a niche defensively - especially when Hanner Mosquera-Perea returns in mid-February.
"If the season ended today, this would be one of the hardest working teams I have ever coached." - Tom Crean
The Hoosiers will now head to Madison in what will obviously be a very difficult game to pull out, but with nothing seemingly on the line - the Hoosiers should be able to play loose and that could lead to an unexpected outcome.