The Rutgers men’s basketball team came into Wednesday night’s game against Indiana with a tremendous opportunity to make a jump in the Big Ten standings. The Hoosiers had lost six straight and Rutgers was looking to win three consecutive conference games for the first time since joining the Big Ten and the first time for the program in 15 years. While it wasn’t pretty and it was tense down the stretch, this team didn’t disappoint. They closed out the visiting Hoosiers for a statement 66-58 win to move up the ladder of the Big Ten standings and earn even more respect.
First Half Summary
It was a very rocky start for Rutgers, who trailed 16-8 after committing 8 turnovers in first 8 minutes of the game. Indiana was playing loose and was sagging in the paint on the defensive end. Rutgers struggled to find space and was forcing the action inside, leading to the giveaways. To make matters worse, a player who had the potential to cause problems inside for the Hoosiers in Myles Johnson was on the bench with two fouls.
Rutgers started to show signs offensively and took care of the basketball better, but were trailing 23-14 with 6-plus minutes left in the first half. Shaq Carter drew a significant second foul on Juwan Morgan, who headed to the bench with over six minutes before the break. Fouls were adding up for both sides and the bonus was in effect for both teams with 5:32 left in the opening frame.
The game reached a crucial juncture with Indiana leading 29-19 with four minutes to play. Rutgers finally created some momentum and gave the RAC faithful something to cheer about for the first time all night, finishing the half on a 9-0 run and held Indiana scoreless the final four minutes.
As poorly as Rutgers played in the first half, they only trailed 29-28 at the break. Indiana shot 44% from the floor, but committed four turnovers late in the half. Five Hoosiers had two fouls, including Romeo Langford in addition to Morgan. Rutgers held a +7 edge on the boards, but shot just 36%. However, they made 3 of 7 from behind the arc and played outstanding defense to end the half.
‘Second Half Summary
Rutgers came out of the break like a team on a mission, extending the run to 14-0 behind the first field goal of the game from Montez Mathis. Indiana head coach Archie Miller called a timeout less than two minutes into the second half with the Hoosiers trailing 33-29. After an Omoruyi basket, Rutgers made back to back three’s from way behind the arc from Peter Kiss and Baker. It was a 22-0 run and Rutgers lead 41-29 with 14:48 to play and the RAC was officially rocking.
After an Indiana three ended the run, Rutgers kept the pedal on the metal behind a Shaq Carter three-point play the hard way and a great drive from Kiss. It led to Archie Miller calling another timeout with Indiana trailing 46-32 with 13:11 left in the game. Both Langford and Morgan had three fouls and the Hoosiers was on the ropes.
Indiana cut the lead to 10 but out of the media timeout, Rutgers drew up a play for Myles Johnson who converted his first shot of the game. Back and forth it went before Indiana cut the lead to 7 points after a Langford jumper. Rutgers led 52-45 but after the under-eight timeout, Baker made both free throws on a 1 and 1 to push the lead back to 9 points as Indiana’s Morgan was on the bench with four fouls.
Soon after, Omoruyi drew his second charge of the game (18 on the season) and on the next possession, he went to the line but missed both attempts. Gene made up for it with a block on the other end, but Rutgers turned it over. A Langford lay-in cut the lead to 7 points with 6 minutes to play. Omoruyi then grabbed an offensive rebound and layed it in himself. Indiana turned it over and Omoruyi converted in transition and Rutgers led 58-47 with 4:52 to play. The captain was huge all night, but he really delivered at a stage in the game that Indiana was knocking on the door to make it a much tighter game than it turned out to be.
After two Langford free throws, the score was 58-51 and Steve Pikiell called a timeout with 2:26 remaining. Myles Johnson couldn’t convert at the rim and Morgan cut the lead to five. On the next possession, Geo Baker took control and drove to the rim, drawing the foul. He made both free throws as Rutgers led 60-53 with 1:50 to play. Indiana took three three-point attempts on the next possession, but Omoruyi finally grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Baker. He was fouled and converted both shots from the line, but a Langford three cut the lead to six points with 59 seconds remaining.
Peter Kiss caught the ball out of the inbounds and turned it over, failing to draw the foul. Langford took a three from the top of the key but missed, but Kiss grabbed the critical rebound. He started to jaw with Indiana and Omoruyi wisely grabbed him and tried calming him down. Instead Kiss missed both, but dunked in transition with 20 seconds to play to clinch a victory.
The Game Changed When
Similar to how the Nebraska game turned a week ago, Rutgers trailed by double digits late in the first half and were in danger of getting blown out. This time Geo Baker started the rally and Rutgers cut a 10 point deficit to 1 point at the half. It ultimately turned into a game changing 22-0 run spread over 8 minutes between the two halves and was the catalyst for the victory.
It Was Over When
With Rutgers leading 62-56 in the closing seconds and after a rocky segment for the Quinnipiac transfer, Peter Kiss slammed it home on a fast break to put the game out of reach.
Indiana was led by Romeo Langford who scored 20 points but struggled from the floor, making just 7 of 19 shots. He added 6 rebounds. Juwan Morgan scored 15 points but made just 5 of 13 shots and added 7 rebounds. Having both players get into foul trouble was a significant factor in the game.
Eugene Omoruyi played his best game in Big Ten play this season, delivering a complete performance that kept Rutgers on track the entire second half. He scored 14 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and added 3 assists, 2 blocks and drew 2 charges. Omoruyi played under control and kept the younger players focused down the stretch, making big plays when this team needed it most.
Rutgers moved to 7-0 when Geo Baker scores 16 or more points. He delivered 16 in this victory on just 3 of 8 shooting, but made both three-point attempts and went 8 of 8 from the free throw line. He added 5 assists and 3 rebounds. His game has really elevated during the winning streak.
Rutgers played fantastic defense the last 24 minutes of the game, outscoring Indiana 47-29 and held them to just 35% shooting on the night.
Once again Rutgers won a Big Ten game shooting in the low 40’s, finishing with 41% overall but was a solid 5 of 12 from behind the arc. They were uneven from the free throw line but Baker was huge down the stretch and they finished 15 of 24 from the line for 63%. It was the fifth game in a row Rutgers took more free throw attempts than its opponent.
Rutgers dominated Indiana inside, holding a +13 rebounding margin and a 34-22 edge with points in the paint.
After 8 turnovers in the first 8 minutes of the game, Rutgers committed just 6 turnovers the final 32 minutes. They also forced 11 turnovers from Indiana and held a 15-7 edge in fast break points
Other Notable Rutgers Stats
Ron Harper Jr. scored 10 points, including 8 in the first half. He made two big three-pointers and added 5 rebounds. He is developing and today was a step forward.
Shaq Carter gave a quality 15 minutes off the bench with 8 points and 7 rebounds. Peter Kiss had some moments as well, delivering 7 points and 4 rebounds in the win.
What We Learned
It’s not rocket science. When Rutgers takes care of the basketball and plays lockdown defense, they feed off opponents mistakes and off the energy of making big plays. Their defense caused Indiana a lot of problems in the second half and they stayed disciplined on the offensive end.
The most encouraging thing from my view during the past three wins is that Rutgers has been tougher than its opponents. They seem to will themselves to victory in a way we haven’t seen on the banks in years. Omoruyi and Baker have grown as leaders and the supporting cast is getting better. At 4-6 in Big Ten play, Rutgers has won more conference games since joining the league and they are only halfway through the schedule.
A rematch against Ohio State (13-7; 3-6) awaits on Saturday in Columbus. The Buckeyes lost to rival Michigan on Tuesday and have lost four of five games since losing at Rutgers on January 9th. The Scarlet Knights will head back on the road with a world of confidence and a three game winning streak. Soak it in, the progress is real as Rutgers is 11-9 overall, 4-6 in conference play and sits alone in 8th place in the Big Ten. We are on to February.
For Dave White’s four thoughts click here.