It seems that the Scarlet Knights are at a tipping point once again.
Either this game, a hard fought battle where Rutgers played the right way, is something to build on--or this is the best fans can hope for this season.
The game started poorly for Rutgers, as Indiana came out shooting hot from downtown. The Hoosiers put up a double digit lead early and seemed like they were going to run the Scarlet Knights out of the gym. An undermanned squad, Rutgers' remaining big men D. J. Foreman and Greg Lewis tried to stay out of foul trouble as the guards tried to find an offensive spark.
And once again, they found it in Omari Grier. Grier scored 15 points in the first half and-as Corey Sanders and Mike Williams struggled to get their offense going--he and Lewis helped tie the score at 34 at the half.
The second half it seemed momentum would be in Rutgers favor, as they fouled freshman big man Thomas Bryant out quickly (he played only 6 total minutes). Once the tree was out of the game, Rutgers was free to attack the basket. However, it wasn't to be, and Yogi Farrell and Max Bielfeldt took over. Farrell got to the rim easily, and when he didn't get lay-ups or foul calls, he was able to dish to Bielfeldt on the wing for an open three. This play, dishing to an open shooter on the weak side, has been something Eddie Jordan's squads have never been able to defend, as Jordan likes to have his defense swarm to the ball.
But the Scarlet Knights did not go quietly, and get threatening to make a push and get the game close. Sanders finally found his stroke, finishing with 17 points. But the Hoosiers adjusted to Grier, and he only scored 5 points in the second half.
Once again, down double digits, Rutgers clawed back to within six and just over a minute left. The Hoosiers were at the line, and missed two free throws, but Jordan had decided he wanted 4 guards and one wing on the floor and Rutgers could not corral the rebound. The game was over at that point.
Bishop Daniels also played well for Rutgers for about 20 of his 25 minutes, but in the final minutes tried to take over and his actions resulted in missed lay-ups and turnovers.
Indiana put their foot down in the second half to pull away, but Rutgers played well. However, in typical RU fashion, the squad missed a ton of lay-ups that would have given them the win. (In the postgame interview with the radio team, Jordan estimated the team missed six lay-ups. In the crowd, we estimated about 40. One of us was right.)
EDIT: In Keith Sargeant's recap, the official statkeepers said Rutgers missed 16 lay-ups. SIXTEEN!
No, the question remains: Can Rutgers small squad turn the the corner because of this effort and find some consistency or is this the best it's going to get? Because if this is the best it gets--coming up short in an entertaining game--it's going to be another long conference season on the banks.
Rutgers travels to Wisconsin on Saturday for it's next game.