Struggling from distance, Hoosiers turn to defense in win
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – An uninspiring start found Indiana trailing Rutgers 15-6 six minutes into Sunday’s matchup at Assembly Hall. The Scarlet Knights had hit six-straight field goals, and looked far from intimidated in the sea of Cream and Crimson.
But the visitors would not be earning their first ever Big Ten road win this day.
Down nine points, the Hoosiers defense ignited a 20-to-3 run, featuring five Rutgers turnovers and 11 points directly from those miscues.
“We all tried to jump the gaps and be aggressive with our hands,” said sophomore OG Anunoby, who tallied a career-best seven steals on the day.
“Really, that’s what we focus on because that’s where we’re at best,” added junior James Blackmon Jr., “when we get stops and we’re able to just run out because we have so many athletes on this team.”
“When your awareness is high and your urgency level is high, you’re much better at (defense),” said head coach Tom Crean. “We wanted to be active. We wanted to set the tone with the defense, and we thought that we did.”
Fourteen steels propelled the Hoosiers into a productive fast break game. IU’s 33 points in transition were greatly needed, as shots were not falling, as the team shot 4-22 from three-point range.
“It was one of those nights,” said Blackmon, who went 0-8 beyond the arc. “I just had to try and help the team in a different way and not focus so much on my shots.”
The newest member of the Indiana 1,000 point club helped out plenty, though his shot was not falling, leading the squad with 16 points.
“I say this so much, and it’s true: The game is always giving you something,” added Crean. “The maturity process is when it’s not giving you what you want it to give you, you gotta find a way to get something else.”
The final stat sheet will tell you Indiana won by a sizeable margin, 76-57. Still, that same sheet shows Rutgers missing a good deal of free throws, as the Scarlet Knights went 12-26 from the charity stripe. A better shooting percentage would have made the game much more competitive. For that reason and others, coach Crean recognizes his team needs to improve moving forward.
“Until our communication gets to an acceptable level,” said Crean, “we’re gonna have to have that urgency (we had tonight) constantly.
“It all comes down to the urgency level.”