Indiana's Season Comes To Disapppointing End After Loss vs. Rutgers
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Indiana had the start it wanted and the finish it couldn't afford.
The result – a team considered a potential Big Ten tourney spoiler is heading home after Thursday night's 76-69 loss to Rutgers at Madison Square Garden.
A 16-point first-half lead wasn't enough. The sixth-seeded Hoosiers lost their lead and their final three games to finish 16-15 in head coach Archie Miller Cream 'n Crimson debut season.
"We're disappointed because of how well we've played and how much we've improved," assistant coach Ed Schilling told Voice of the Hoosiers Don Fischer during the post-game radio show.
"When you start (leading) 17-3, you feel you're in control. Then they amped it up and we couldn't stop it."
All-Big Ten junior forward Juwan Morgan led IU with 15 points and nine rebounds. Robert Johnson added 12 points. Freshman Aljami Durham totaled 10 points.
It wasn't enough.
Free throws gave IU a chance after being a problem for much of the season. The Hoosiers were 25-for-29 from the line.
That, too, wasn't enough.
Rutgers (15-18) finished last in the Big Ten, but didn't play like it in the final 30 minutes to earn a shot at Purdue Friday night.
"We started off playing very well defensively," Schilling told Fischer. "But as we were getting stop after stop, we weren't able to score.
"We took some bad shots and got out of sync. They started making some shots. They battled and played very physical. We got on our heels and couldn't get back up.
"We got away from who we are. One of the toughest things for us this year was finding ways to score."
IU was coming off a six-day break from its regular season finale heartbreaker against Ohio State. Miller had given the Hoosiers the previous weekend off, and he said the benefits were obvious in practices leading up to Thursday night's game.
Rutgers, meanwhile, was basically 24 hours removed from its opening round win over Minnesota.
Who had the advantage?
Early on, it was the Hoosiers. They jumped to leads of 7-0 and 17-3. IU's vastly improved defense held Rutgers to 1-for-9 shooting with two turnovers as a follow up to its stifling defense against the Scarlet Knights during the regular season.
Rutgers was 3-for-15 from the field and on the brink.
IU was cruising and controlling.
Then it changed.
The Scarlet Knights hit nine straight shots. The Hoosiers made just one basket in the final eight minutes of the first half.
In six minutes, IU's 16-point lead dwindled to one, and then disappeared.
Rutgers ended the half on a 17-2 run for 29-28 lead.
The good news -- Morgan would return after sitting out much of the first half with two fouls.
Again, it wasn't enough.
Rutgers scored the first four points of the second half before the Hoosiers found some offense behind a pair of Freddie McSwain free throws.
Still, the Scarlet Knights pushed ahead by six, then eight.
IU rallied behind Durham's free throw shooting. He was twice fouled while shooting three-pointers, and made all six free throws.
The Hoosiers pulled into a 46-46 tie with eight minutes left.
Rutgers built an eight-point lead. IU inched back behind three-pointers from Josh Newkirk and Johnson.
The Scarlet Knights again went ahead by eight as the clock ticked under a minute.
It was too much to overcome.
Now IU must hope for a NIT bid, although Schilling didn't sound optimistic.
"Probably not," he said when Fischer asked him if the Hoosiers had a shot at making the NIT.
"We're disappointed for these seniors. We couldn't' be more grateful for the foundation these guys helped us lay. They were extremely coachable. They played hard. They bought in.
"We think there will be great success ahead, and when it happens, we can point to this senior class and the standard they set."
And then he offered a final perspective.
"To finish sixth in the conference was a great achievement."