PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The records were basically the same, as was the presumed sense of urgency. So Wednesday night's game between Indiana and Rutgers was going to come down to desire, and to who wanted it more.
Can it really be that simple?
Indiana, inspired and well-prepared according to coach Archie Miller, led by 15 points early in the first half, but trailed by 20 throughout much of the second half. The final score was 74-63, which was deceiving because Indiana scored the last eight points in the last minute of garbage time.
This was, in Game 23, the most disappointing night of this strange Indiana basketball season. The Hoosiers, for the second straight game, completely collapsed on defense and got run right out of the gym, just like they did Saturday in the ugly loss to Michigan State.
It's never good when your opponent is dunking at will – Rutgers had nine dunks, almost all uncontested – and it's really never good when your opponent is laughing and joking and high-fiving at your expense.
It would be easy – layup-like easy – to start saying nasty things about this performance and to take shots and get critical. But I don't need to do that.
I'm going to let Archie Miller do it for me.
The numbers, quite frankly, speak for themselves. Indiana is now 12-11 overall and 7-9 in the Big Ten. They are, as of this moment, now on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Rutgers (13-9, 9-9) is just the opposite, and should be good now. One game, just one game, can do that this time of year when two teams with similar resumes get together.
The worst number? Indiana was outscored 57-22 through the middle portion of this game, and looked completely uninspired in doing it.
Yes, the numbers certainly can speak for themselves.
And it's Archie Miller – the buck-stops-here guy – who can speak for himself, too. So let's let him.
Miller met with the media after the game and spoke for 10 minutes. He made an opening statement and answered six questions.
Here's what he said about his team when an opponent starts to make a run and they don't have an answer for it:
"I think when things aren't going well, whether it's a lack of confidence offensively or things start to become difficult for us, our response isn't to run harder, to talk more, to concentrate more, to talk about the things that we can control,'' Miller said. "And I think in both second halves, which hasn't really been the case all year, teams have been able to go, whether you're up or down, on huge runs without being able to get it stopped.
"To me, we're letting our defense completely be affected right now by whatever's going on in the game, whether that's a bad play on offense, whether that's a bad stretch on offense, but at the end of the day, we get quiet. And right now is not the time of year to be doing that.''
Miller said the Hoosiers weren't ready to compete in the second half, which they played without Armaan Franklin, who re-aggravated his nagging ankle injury. But that wasn't the only problem.
"We weren't ready out of halftime, and that started with our defense,'' Miller said. "I think the thing that's disappointing right now is when things don't go well for us, the thing we've kind of hung our hat on and been able to do is really scrap, compete and find a way to make it anybody's game. In our last two second halves, in particular when things haven't gone well, our defense and our just our tightness, our ability to communicate, our response hasn't given us chance in these last two games.
"And both teams just really opened the floodgates up offensively against us. We're just going to have to be able to find a way to get that collectiveness back.''
Turnovers have been a real problem lately, too. Indiana had nine in the first half, seven of them coming when Rutgers was quickly erasing that early 15-point Indiana lead that was spurred by Al Durham and Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Indiana simply cannot win games when they're sloppy with the ball.
"Taking care of the ball has become a problem. I thought their pressure really rattled us tonight,'' Miller said. "We had a hard time functioning cleanly on offense. And I think turnovers are hard to defend. We had nine in the first half. And that was a big difference in the first half getting turned around. And I think in the second half, just defensively, we didn't start the second half like we started the game.
"And I do think when things aren't going well right now, we tend to sort of get more into ourselves and we tend to not get back. We tend right now not to fiercely compete, how we have to do it to stay in the game.''
Miller said that confidence has been stripped away from this team, and it's on him to get it back, starting with Saturday's home game against No. 3 Michigan.
"There's been times where we've really responded well, but here lately, in particular in our last two games, I think when things haven't gone well, we haven't responded with that comeback effort that we need,'' Miller said." I think we can get it back. This is a humbling game, a humbling second half for us. I think it's the first time all season long our team has really looked fractured where we didn't know how to compete, what to do.
"And that goes back to me.''
Yes it does, without question.
The ugliness of the result took away from the fact that Indiana started out doing some really good things. Al Durham had 14 early points and was 4-for-4 from three-point range. He finished with 20 points.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, who has had trouble against Myles Johnson and Rutgers – averaging only 9.5 points per game in two straight losses – played inspired ball and found different ways to score, getting 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.
There wasn't much help beyond that, which was a problem. Franklin was hurt and was held scoreless for the first time all, and Race Thompson played with a mask after taking an elbow to the face in practice on Tuesday. He had two points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes..
The fifth starter, Rob Phinisee, had another brutal night. He was 0-for-7 from the field and didn't score. He also had three turnovers, and simply looks completely lost right now.
Those numbers don't lie, either.
For Indiana, this has become a real mess, and it just doesn't get any easier in this final week of the season. No. 3 Michigan has its sights set on a national title. Michigan State has looked great in the past week and Purdue would like nothing more than to administer more pain in the final game of the regular season.
Archie Miller and his staff need to find answers in a hurry. Franklin and Thompson at less than 100 percent is a problem. Confidence is a major problem, and that doesn't turn on and off like the flip of a switch.
Wednesday night's game was very hard to watch. Saturday could be, too. Miller said "this is a quiet team'' and doesn't have an "alpha'' personality.
That, too, is a problem.
Related stories on Indiana basketball
- GAME STORY: Rutgers quickly erases a 15-point deficit and then blows out Indiana on Wednesday night, winning 74-63. CLICK HERE
- LIVE BLOG: Relive the blow-by-blow from Wednesday's game at Rutgers as it played out in real time. CLICK HERE
- POSTGAME VIDEO: Here is the full 10-minute video of Archie Miller's postgame press conference following the Rutgers loss. CLICK HERE
- BAD MATCHUP WITH RUTGERS: Indiana has lost two straight games against Rutgers, and that's because the Scarlet Knights' defense can take the Hoosiers out of the things they do best of offense. We break down the three things that make this a bad matchup. CLICK HERE
- BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS: Indiana slid down a spot after a tough home loss to Michigan State, and Michigan is now the clear No. 1 in a loaded Big Ten conference. CLICK HERE
- NCAA TOURNAMENT: Despite Saturday's loss, Indiana is still projected to make the NCAA Tournament, according to several national bracketologists. CLICK HERE
- TOM BREW COLUMN: Four years into the Archie Miller era, it's just not working and it's time for Indiana to move on from Miller. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA SCHEDULE: Here is Indiana's complete men's basketball schedule, with all the latest updates and links to all of the game stories and columns from Tom Brew throughout the season. CLICK HERE