BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana displayed the kind of intensity it needed to knock off a ranked opponent last weekend. Spurred on by a crowd of 15,456 on alumni day, IU knocked off then No. 11 Ohio State at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The goal for the Hoosiers (13-3, 3-2 Big Ten) is to bring that same kind of passion and work ethic on the road Wednesday night at Rutgers.
“That’s the thing you wish you could bottle up as a coach and put in there and hit that switch, and it’s go time,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said Monday on his weekly radio show. “The best bring it every night. We’re learning as a group that’s sort of finding its way as a team and how we have to play a certain way. We’ve shown glimpses of the good. We’ve shown some glimpses of the bad.”
Indiana is not only 0-2 on the road, but the Hoosiers haven’t been competitive in either game. IU trailed by 30 points at both Wisconsin and Maryland and lost by 16 points or more in both games.
It won’t get any easier Wednesday night. The Scarlet Knights (12-4, 3-2 already have posted home wins over Seton Hall, Wisconsin and Penn State in their quest for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991.
Rutgers is getting it done this season defensively, ranking 13th in the country in KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Ratings. The Scarlet Knights are tied with Ohio State for the league lead in scoring defense (59.4 ppg allowed) and second in field goal percentage defense (.367).
“Rutgers is one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Miller said. “If you look at their games at home and what they are doing, teams are having a hard time getting 50 points, and you gotta be able to make some free throws. You’ve got to be able to make some open shots. That’s a big deal.”
Offensively, Rutgers has been slowed due an injury to its second-leading scorer, redshirt junior guard Geo Baker, who remains out indefinitely with a broken thumb. Sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr., the son of former NBA standout Ron Harper, has helped pick up the slack. Harper is averaging a team-high 12.2 points.
“They’re getting a little bit older now. They’re a little bit more skilled than they have been, and at home they will beat anybody in the country on a given night,” Miller said.
Part of what sparked Indiana against Ohio State was the play of senior guard Devonte Green, who scored 19 points. In IU’s two wins against ranked teams this season (Florida State, Ohio State), Green has averaged 24.5 points. The Rutgers game will be a homecoming of sorts for Green, who is from North Babylon, N.Y., about an hour drive from the Rutgers campus.
“There’s nobody in that locker room that doesn’t doubt the necessity he is to our team,” IU junior forward Justin Smith said. “He can do a lot of different things. He can score, pass, defend. I mean, like, he’s a very, very important part to our team, and we need him in these big games.”
Miller said in order for IU to win on the road, it must knock down shots from the perimeter and make free throws. IU beat Ohio State despite missing 16 free throws (20-of-36, 55.6 percent) on Saturday.
“We’ve got to spend more time individually,” Miller said. “We’ve got to spend more time at night, as a team, whatever we’ve got to do, but we’ve got to do a better job on the line for sure.”
Of course, Indiana isn’t the only Big Ten team losing on the road, as home teams entered Tuesday night with a 31-5 record within the conference this season. After playing at Rutgers, Indiana will travel to Nebraska on Saturday before returning home for a Jan. 23 game against No. 15 Michigan State as it continues the grind of its 20-game conference schedule.
“It’s a slugfest,” Miller said. “You are playing a different style of game right now that I think everybody knows how it’s going to be played, and you have to be able to answer the bell.
“To me, you have to be able to shoot the ball. If you can shoot the ball on the road, you are a dynamic team. You really are. You have a chance to win some games because it’s going to be really difficult on the road to score easy baskets. You are not going to get a ton of them.”
Miller said freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who was held to six points and three rebounds in 28 minutes against Ohio State, did an excellent job handling double teams throughout the game. “Part of the way we scored on Saturday is he made five plays, that he not only handled the double, but he made the proper read, and the ball got out on time, on target,” Miller said. “That’s what a great player does.” … The 6-foot-9 Jackson-Davis is still leading the Hoosiers in scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (8 rpg) this season.