BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – Indiana finally found a remedy Saturday for its recent ailments.
After another sluggish start by the No. 22 Hoosiers, they locked in, buckled down and allowed just three baskets over the final seven minutes to rally for a 72-64 victory over Rutgers.
“To me, it’s not about the eye test, it’s not about being pretty, it’s about being efficient,” coach Tom Crean said.
They were, especially late when Crean counted seven defensive stops over the final 10 possessions and the Hoosiers went on an 8-0 run to retake the lead. Indiana sealed the win by hitting 10 consecutive free throws.
The Hoosiers’ strong stand began after a quick break.
“Coming out of that timeout, every one of us said, ‘Come on, give it all for these last seven minutes’ and we just kind of toughed it out,” James Blackmon Jr. said.
But nothing has come easy for Indiana (16-6, 6-3 Big Ten) lately.
The Hoosiers lost their previous two games by double digits and were playing for the fourth time in nine days. They started this game making by just 5 of 20 shots, trailed by as much as eight in the first half and never even threatened to take control until the final four minutes of the first half.
Blackmon had 20 points while Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Troy Williams each finished with 14 for the Hoosiers. Williams also matched his career high with 12 rebounds despite being relegated to bench duty for only the fourth time this season.
Rutgers (10-13, 2-8) made things tough all day.
Myles Mack scored 24 points including 12 in the first six minutes of the second half when he hit three 3s and three free throws to put the Scarlet Knights back in front. Junior Etou added 13 points and Kadeem Jack had 11.
Rutgers rallied just before halftime to close the deficit to 32-30. Mack continued the surge after the break, and when he made his fourth 3 of the half with 11:33 to go, Rutgers had pushed the lead to 52-45.
The Hoosiers answered with seven straight points to tie the score, then took the lead for good when Nick Zeisloft hit a 3 to make it 59-57 with 6:35 left.
Rutgers never led again.
“Although we played well for 35 minutes, I told the team with a team like this on the road in this environment, you have to play better than well the last five minutes,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “It’s hard to do. It’s hard to play better than well.”
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights came into the game with the lowest scoring average in the Big Ten. But they sure didn’t play that way, making 10 of their first 19 shots and going 7 of 17 on 3s. The 64-point total was their highest in two weeks.
Indiana: Crean shook up his lineup Saturday to get better matchups and wear down Rutgers. The result? The Hoosiers had a 26-0 scoring advantage off the bench, 32-22 edge on points in the paint and an 18-2 advantage on fast-break points.
Rutgers: At Illinois on Tuesday.
Indians: At No. 5 Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Clearly, Mack was the best player on the floor early in the second half. Jordan, a former NBA player and coach, thought Mack was even better than that. “Last, but not least, I think Myles Mack was the best player on the floor.”
Indiana has been the Big Ten’s best scoring team all season. But it’s been a different since conference play began. Indiana has averaged just 71.4 points, down almost nine points from its season average (80.3). And Saturday’s 72-point game marked the third time this week Indiana has been limited to fewer than 75.