BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It's not easy to gather momentum in the Big Ten, not this year when there's a desperate team waiting for you around every corner.
Indiana fell into that familiar trap on Sunday when a talented Rutgers team, totally focused on snapping a five-game losing, did just a little bit more and hung on for a 74-70 win. It was a tough ending to a week that started with such promise for Indiana after the upset of No. 4 Iowa on Thursday night.
But that trend of winning a big one and then not validating it continued, something that's been going on for a couple of years now and it haunted the Hoosiers again. The loss drops Indiana to 9-7 on the season and 4-5 in the Big Ten, the country's most difficult league from top to bottom.
"We're just really disappointed for each other,'' a somber Armaan Franklin said afterward. The sophomore guard from Indianapolis led the Hoosiers with 14 points "Everybody's upset. They played more desperate than we did. We have to pick it up for the next one. We'll take this, and we'll move forward. We have to.''
That's been a familiar refrain for the Hoosiers the past couple of years, and this year has been no different. Indiana just can't put any streaks together. This season, a win over Providence was followed by a loss to Texas. Beat Stanford, but then lose to Florida State. Beat Butler, but then lose to Northwestern.
And now, get your first win against a top-four team in five years, and then lose to a Rutgers team that had to be doubting itself.
Indiana coach Archie Miller didn't have an answer for that when he was asked point blank about losses after big wins, unless you count '"no'' and that's it as an answer. It was the same way last year, when all five wins over ranked teams were followed by a loss.
Every single one of them.
In fact, only twice in Miller's four years here has Indiana won a game after beating a ranked team, and that all came in a three-game stretch where the Hoosiers beat No 19 Wisconsin, No. 6 Michigan State and Illinois from Feb. 26 to March 7 in 2019.
It still hurts.
"I'm disappointed for our guys. I told them after the game that I'm not disappointed in the result, I'm disappointed FOR them. The workload going into Iowa was exactly the same as it was coming out Iowa. Every single game in the leagues requires you to play hard and play smart, but you have to play well, too,
"We were able to crack the Iowa game with our defense, but we had a hard time doing that today off the bounce. For 40 minutes defensively, we had a hard time guarding the ball.''
Rutgers is a tough guard because most of their roster can drive to the basket well. They can put a lot of pressure on defender, and Indiana struggled to keep them from getting where they wanted to. It led to a lot of easy baskets. Rutgers shot 60 percent in the first half, and made 6-of-8 shots to start the second half when they pulled ahead by as many as 14 points with 11:54 to go.
Much of it was because of dribble penetration and getting good looks right at the rim after defensive breakdowns.
"It wasn't effort. Part of it was we had some breakdowns in terms of communication,'' Miller said. 'But they have terrific one-on-one players. Those guys are all hard to guard. We got whipped straight lines, and also had breakdowns in switches and executing our system.
"We were much better against Iowa, and we weren't as good today. I thought our defense would be tighter, but we didn't need to be in some of the rotations we got into, and that caused problems for us.
Guard Geo Baker led Rutgers with 19 points in 37 minutes, attacking the basket well but also hitting four three-pointers. He was so good ''we couldn't take him off the court,'' Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said.
"There weren't any surprises,'' Miller said. "They put (Geo) Baker in more of a primary role, and I thought he had a really good day. There weren't a whole lot of secrets.''
Indiana fought back on multiple occasions and cut the lead to three points on two occasions late in the game, but they couldn't get the one crucial stop they needed. Indiana was 10-for-16 from three, and two long balls by Khristian Lander, two more from Franklin and one by Al Durham kept them in the game during that second-half run.
It was 73-70 after Trayce Jackson-Davis made two free throws with 43 seconds left. Rutgers milked the clock and Indiana defended Ron Harper Jr. well on a three-pointer, but Scarlet Knights center Myles Johnson got the rebound and retained possession and Indiana was forced to foul. Baker made 1-of-2 free throws with 8 seconds left to ice it.
"We got some good looks but they didn't go down and they came back with some big plays,'' Franklin said.
Jackson-Davis only had 13 points for the Hoosiers on 4-of-10 shooting. He made 5-of-7 free throws. Rutgers made it tough to get the ball in to him, but Johnson could also handle him alone in the post. He had five blocked shots in the game, including two on Jackson-Davis in the first four minutes.
"Myles Johnson is one of the best interior defenders in the country, and I've been saying that since he was a young guy,'' Miller said. ''He can stay between you and the basket, but he can also block shots. It takes some getting used to.
"Trayce didn't get many good looks, and we didn't do a very good job of getting it to him. It wasn't one of his best offensive performances, but you've got to give Rutgers a lot of credit for that.''
Rutgers was 6-0 at one time this season and ranked No. 11 in the country. Beset by injuries and a tough stretch of the schedule, they lost five games in a row, four to ranked teams. So they were desperate to win here, and it showed.
“When we needed to get stops, we did, and that was very important down there stretch,'' Pikiell said.