Hoosiers Beat Rutgers, Snap Losing Streak
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Indiana got its victory reward.
Could a strong finish follow?
The Hoosiers (13-12, 6-7 Big Ten) clicked on offense, defense and energy during Monday night's 65-43 victory at Rutgers. They snapped a four-game losing streak with their most decisive performance since a 20-point win over Northwestern on Jan. 14.
Indiana started strong and finished fast.
That was exactly what coach Archie Miller wanted to see.
"You have to find a way to find energy and toughness and compete, and get through those first four minutes," Miller said told Voice of the Hoosiers Don Fischer on the post-game radio show. "Feel good about yourself. We were ready to go."
Were they ever.
The Hoosiers moved and cut and shared on offense, attacked and punished on defense to improve to 6-0 against Rutgers (12-14, 2-11). They played with passion, purpose and fight.
Beyond that, they hit from long range (9-for-20), blocked seven shots and had a 17-2 edge in points off turnovers.
Juwan Morgan and Robert Johnson were the catalysts.
Morgan had 24 points and eight rebounds. Johnson had 19 points with three three-pointers.
"They have been steady," Miller told Fischer, "but everybody contributed.
"We had a lot of contributions from a lot of guys."
Forward Freddie McSwain Jr. earned his second straight start, and went 4-for-4 from the line while grabbing nine rebounds. Devonte Green got his sixth start and first in 18 games. He totaled nine points and four assists.
The seven-games-in-17-day blitz is in the Hoosiers' rearview mirror. They'll have time to practice and rest during the regular season's final few weeks.
Next up -- a Friday night home game against Minnesota.
"We're excited to take a deep breath after this stretch," Miller said. "It's been hard on our guys to practice and travel.
"We'll have more space coming down the home stretch. We'll get back on the practice floor for short periods of time. We'll have more prep time."
IU's defense throttled Rutgers into first-half irrelevance. The Scarlet Knights shot just 22.2 percent shooting with eight turnovers and two assists. Standout Corey Sanders, who had 31 points two days earlier against Purdue, had just one point in the opening 20 minutes, and finished with nine.
The Scarlet Knights' other top scorer, Geo Baker, had 10 points.
"A big point was to make those guys facilitators," Miller said. "You have to have guys committed to playing hard on the ball, but your frontcourt has to be committed to helping. The guys did an excellent job of making those guys passers than shooters."
This was IU's seventh game a with one-day turnaround, and Miller refused to dwell on it. A pre-game emphasis was "no excuses." So was push for a high-energy opening four minutes.
Johnson scored the game's first five points, including a three-pointer, then added another three. Morgan had his own three-pointer and the Hoosiers led 11-2.
That gave Johnson three baskets in the first three minutes, which matched his total number of baskets from the previous two games.
Morgan, Green and Johnson combined for all of IU's points as it jumped ahead 24-8.
Rutgers responded with an 8-0 run. Johnson ended that with a basket for a 26-16 halftime lead.
Morgan opened the second half with a basket, then added a three-pointer as IU built a 31-18 IU lead four minutes into the second half.
Al Durham's three pointer a minute later made him the first Hoosier other than Morgan, Johnson and Green to score as the Hoosiers pushed ahead by 16, then 20, and more.
Through it all, the energy never wavered.
"It was a big talking point after the Michigan State game," Miller said, "that the energy level cannot be down. We have to be ready to go on the tip. Our guys were ready to play. They played extremely hard."
And earned the victory reward.