Five takeaways from Indiana’s win over Rutgers

Indiana improved to 12-6 overall and 2-3 in Big Ten play on Sunday afternoon with a 76-57 win over Rutgers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the win over the Scarlet Knights:

· Green provides first half spark: Freshman Devonte Green didn’t play at all in losses to Louisville and Wisconsin, but has shown signs lately that he may be deserving of more minutes.

The latest example was Sunday’s first half, when Green played 10 minutes and scored four points, dished out two assists and had a steal. The Hoosiers were having a tough time containing Corey Sanders early on, but Green came in and slowed down the sophomore point guard.

The Long Island native only logged five minutes in the second half and angered Tom Crean in the game’s closing seconds when he tried to throw an alley oop to Freddie McSwain. His strong first half, however, is something Indiana may be able to build upon.

“Like we talked about yesterday,” Crean said. “Impact the game with your energy, impact the game with being in the right spot, move the ball. And just come in and literally play hard.”

· Indiana’s defense locks up Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights entered Sunday’s game with the Big Ten’s worst offense (0.82 points per possession).

Indiana held Rutgers below that average, surrendering just .77 points per trip. It was progress defensively for a group that hadn’t held a high major opponent under a point per possession since late November.

The Hoosiers forced a season-high 21 turnovers and scored 33 points off of those Rutgers miscues.

· An active Anunoby: OG Anunoby struggled in Tuesday’s 75-72 loss at Maryland, but the sophomore forward quickly put that subpar performance behind him.

Anunoby had seven of Indiana’s season-high 14 steals in the win and also added 11 points, three rebounds, two assists and a block. He also had no turnovers in 25 minutes.

“We tried to jump the gaps and be aggressive with our hands,” Anunoby said postgame.

If Indiana is going to turn things around and win games with any consistency, it needs more of the Anunoby that showed up Sunday on Branch McCracken Court.

· Indiana overcomes a poor shooting performance by taking care of the ball: Indiana, which is typically reliant on strong perimeter shooting to win, hit just 4-of-22 of its 3s against Rutgers and still won by 19.

How? It took care of the ball. Indiana had a season-low turnover percentage of 14.5 and finished well in the paint. Indiana was 25-of-40 on 2s for 62.5 percent. That’s the third time in five Big Ten games that the Hoosiers have shot better than 60 percent on 2s.

“That’s what we work at every day, making simple plays,” James Blackmon Jr. said. “And that’s when simple plays turn into big plays for us.”

Also of note: Indiana won comfortably despite rebounding only 17.6 percent of its missed shots, which was a season low.

· Bryant’s struggles at the rim continue: It’s been a season of regression for Thomas Bryant in terms of finishing plays at the rim.

Sunday was no different. Bryant was 3-of-7 on 2s, bringing his season average to 54.1 percent inside the arc. Last season, Bryant shot 70.7 percent on 2s, which ranked fourth nationally. He’s also regressed in conference games as he shot 67.9 percent on 2s in league play as a freshman and is 53.1 percent so far this season.

Combine Bryant’s struggles with the inconsistencies of Anunoby and it’s not hard to see why the Hoosiers have been so up and down through 18 games.

The Minute After: Rutgers

Thoughts on a 76-57 win over Rutgers:

Indiana’s defense has been a large factor in it failing to live up to expectations so far this Big Ten season. But in its win this afternoon against Rutgers, it was a strength.

Did Indiana start poorly on the defensive end? Yes. It helped Rutgers bust out to a nine-point lead at the 14:26 mark (15-6). But once the Hoosiers settled in — and particularly when they started turning Rutgers over — the lead for the Scarlet Knights was erased, never to return. Indiana played the passing lanes well and racked up a season-high 14 steals leading to a number of easy looks on the fast break. OG Anunoby had seven of those 14, the most from an Indiana players since Michael Lewis in 1999.

At half, Indiana had outscored Rutgers 17-3 in the points off turnovers department. By game’s end, that ballooned to 33-10, as Indiana continued to steal the ball, even when Rutgers wised up and tried going back door on IU. The Scarlet Knights turned the ball over on 28.2 percent of their possessions, the worst turnover percentage for an Indiana opponent this season. Conversely, the Hoosiers turned it over on just 14.8 of their possessions — a season-best. Rutgers also shot just 12-of-26 from the line.

Juwan Morgan played a particularly inspired stretch of rim-protecting defense to start the second half before going out with an apparent foot injury at the 14:50 mark. Add it all up and Rutgers scored just .77 points per possession, below their season average of .82.

Indiana’s defense helped make up for a game in which its offense floundered at times. The Hoosiers shot just 4-of-22 from distance. James Blackmon Jr. missed all eight of his 3-point attempts. Curtis Jones (2-of-2) and Robert Johnson (2-of-5) were the only two Hoosiers to connect from beyond the arc this afternoon. Indiana’s offensive rebounding, about the only consistent strength of this team game in and game out, wasn’t there today. The Hoosiers rebounded just 17.6 percent of their misses against Rutgers, a season low, which meant just four second-chance points.

Devonte Green’s 15 minutes were the most he’s played in a Big Ten game so far this season, and some were wondering why he didn’t get more run in the second half after some good minutes in the first. Tom Crean appears to be cultivating a growing trust for his freshman — who just might be the most skilled pure passer on the roster — but the end of the game may have evaporated some of that good will. Green tossed up an alley-oop to Freddie McSwain on the last possession of the game, a pass which McSwain mishandled as time expired. Crean stormed out onto the court and screamed at Green after going for the highlight reel play with the game already in hand.

Beyond his seven steals, Anunoby played a nice balanced game, adding 11 points (4-of-8) and three rebounds. Josh McRoberts hit two mid-range jumpers with no hesitation on his way to a four-point outing. Thomas Bryant was just 3-of-9 from the floor and continues to struggle 1-on-1 in the post.

The Hoosiers now head on the road for three of their next four games, and depending on how things shake out, it could be a season-defining stretch.

Photo Gallery: Indiana vs. Rutgers

Check out 41 photos by Jamie Owens from Indiana’s 76-57 win over over Rutgers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Purchase prints from J. Scott Photography.

Video: Tom Crean reacts to win over Rutgers

Tom Crean met with the media following Indiana’s 76-57 win over Rutgers on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch his postgame comments below:

Video: Steve Pikiell reacts to loss at Indiana

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell met with the media following his team’s 76-57 loss to Indiana on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch the full press conference below:

Video: IU players react to win over Rutgers

OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. met with the media following Indiana’s 76-57 win over Rutgers on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch their postgame comments below:

At the Buzzer: Indiana 76, Rutgers 57

Quick thoughts on a 76-57 win over the Scarlet Knights:

How it happened: Save for a suspect start from Indiana, Sunday’s matinee at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall went just about as expected. After Rutgers raced to a 15-6 lead with 14:26 to play in the first half, Indiana outscored the Scarlet Knights 35-17 the rest of the half to claim a nine-point halftime lead. From there, the Hoosiers were good enough defensively to overcome a poor 3-point shooting game and a below average offensive output to win comfortably. It was a much needed victory for Indiana, which moved to 12-6 overall and 2-3 in Big Ten play. With three of its next four games on the road, the Hoosiers have to hope they’ll be able to use this win as a springboard into a critical stretch of the conference schedule.

Standout performance: Sophomore OG Anunoby came off the bench to score 11 points (4-of-8 shooting). But that wasn’t the most impressive part of his stat line. The 6-foot-8 forward had seven steals to go along with three rebounds and two assists. It was the most steals in a game by an IU player since Michael Lewis had eight in 1999.

Statistic that stands out: For the first time in Big Ten play, Indiana held an opponent under one point per possession. Rutgers scored just .77 points per possession in the loss. The Scarlet Knight came in averaging .82 points per trip in conference games.

Final IU individual stats:

Final tempo-free stats:

Communication, simplification continue to be focal points for IU

Having lost four of their last five games, Indiana coach Tom Crean continues to harp on the same themes: communication and simplification.

In five of Indiana’s six losses on the season, the Hoosiers were in the game in the waning moments but failed to execute down the stretch.

Indiana’s struggle in crunch time, Crean says, can be attributed in part to a lack of team communication.

“(Communication) is not a strength with anybody right now,” Crean said Saturday. “We’ve got to continue to work through it. There are responsibilities that certain guys have. That’s where some of the urgency needs to come from.”

The need for communication on the floor has been stressed throughout the season by both players and coaches, but it’s still evident that it’s a work in progress.

“Every team is different, but there’s gotta be a dynamic of constant communication, through thick and thin, through good and bad,” Crean said. “We’ve got great people. These are great kids, but they’re not there yet on how important it is.”

For a team full of players that aren’t used to being vocal leaders on the court, being able to constantly communicate has been tough to grasp.

“It becomes hard for players to understand until they’ve been through it awhile, but defense is bullet points; offense is conversations,” Crean said. “They’re quick conversations. Sometimes they’re animated. But they’re not monotone. They’re just not. We haven’t quite grasped that yet.”

Keeping it simple

Freshmen guards Devonte Green and Curtis Jones are still becoming acquainted with life in the Big Ten.

Even though both Green and Jones were impressive in stretches during the non-conference slate, neither have managed to find their footing in conference play.

Crean says that the key to the freshmen guards finding success boils down to playing a simplified game.

“The hardest thing for any player, especially a young player, to understand, is how simple you have to keep the game. How much it’s about the next pass. How much it’s about running the court both ways. How much it’s about understanding that your first step matters in so many things, whether it’s on the ball defense or cutting. Just getting into the flow.”

The two have struggled to stay on the floor for extended stretches, with neither Green nor Jones scoring more than six points or logging more than 13 minutes in any conference game.

Anunoby finding an ‘extra gear’

The soft-spoken sophomore has been somewhat of an enigma throughout his time in Bloomington, producing moments of both brilliance and bewilderment.

“There are times (Anunoby) is the guy that averaged five (points) and two (rebounds) a year ago,” Crean said. “There are times he’s like that. But there is no question he’s got another gear. You’ve seen it. Everybody has seen it.”

There is no questioning Anunoby’s raw talent. His jaw-dropping athleticism and elite defensive ability have made him potential NBA lottery pick.

But for Indiana to put themselves back in the hunt in the Big Ten, it will be critical for Anunoby to play at that extra gear at a consistent level.

“When you’ve got that kind of ability, it’s our job to keep pushing to find that extra gear and get it out of there more often,” Crean said. “I take that very personal with him. I love that kid. We’ve got to get (that extra gear). It’s there.”

Video: IU players, Crean preview Rutgers

Curtis Jones, Devonte Green and Tom Crean met with the media on Saturday to preview Indiana’s matchup against Rutgers on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Watch both press conferences below:

What to Expect: Rutgers

Indiana returns home on Sunday for a matinee matchup with Rutgers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Scarlet Knights are 11-7 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten.

The game will be broadcast at 12 p.m. ET on BTN with Jeff Levering and Shon Morris on the call:

It’s a new era for Rutgers basketball and there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for a program that’s been the doormat of the Big Ten since arriving for the 2014-2015 season. The Scarlet Knights are unlikely to avoid finishing in the cellar of the Big Ten, but they may finally have a coach capable of producing a successful rebuild.

Steve Pikiell, who built Stony Brook into a power in the America East Conference, already has Rutgers far more competitive in the Big Ten. The conference record thus far isn’t indicative of that, but Rutgers is coming off losses to Iowa and Northwestern that were both very competitive.

Indiana, meanwhile, is just 1-3 in the Big Ten and in desperate need of a win. The Hoosiers have dropped five of their last eight games. Indiana’s league schedule is road-heavy the rest of the way, so it’s a must for the Hoosiers to take care of home court to have a shot at finishing better than .500 in the league. It’s not the position Indiana expected to be in at this point, but it’s the current reality with this group.

MEET THE SCARLET KNIGHTS

Rutgers has balanced scoring with four different players averaging in double figures.

The starting backcourt is junior Nigel Johnson, a Kansas State transfer, and sophomore Corey Sanders (pictured) who looked at his professional options before opting to return to Piscataway.

Johnson is the team’s leading scorer (11.9 ppg), but has been horribly inefficient in Big Ten games. In five Big Ten losses, Johnson is shooting 30.2 percent on 2s and 23.8 on 3s. He’s taking 26.3 percent of the team’s shots while on the floor, the 13th highest percentage in the Big Ten.

Sanders is incredibly talented, but also struggles with efficiency. He’s got the ninth best assist rate in conference play (22.2 percent), but is hitting just 30 percent of his 3s and 37.7 percent of his 2s. He’s using the fifth highest percentage of possessions of any Big Ten player in league play.

Junior guard Mike Williams comes off the bench and averages 10.5 points per game. Like Johnson and Sanders, he’s a low efficiency shooter. In Big Ten games, Williams is shooting just 31.8 percent on 3s and 33.3 percent on 2s.

Deshawn Freeman, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, is the anchor in the frontcourt. Freeman averages 11.7 points, second on the team, and a team-high 8.8 rebounds per game. Freeman is finishing 50 percent of his 2s in Big Ten games and ranks in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

Senior CJ Gettys, a 7-foot, 280 pound graduate transfer from UNC-Wilmington, has been decent on the glass and an adequate shot blocker through five Big Ten games, but is converting just 40.7 percent of his field goal attempts. Gettys is a plodding big man who IU should look to expose in transition.

Other names to know in the Rutgers rotation are Candido Sa, Issa Thiam and Jonathan Laurent.

Sa, a 6-foot-9 native of Portugal, is 20th in the league in block percentage. Thiam, a 6-foot-9 native of the Senegal, isn’t afraid to shoot, but is just 3-of-18 from the field in conference games. Laurent is a 6-foot-6 sophomore wing that can finish at a decent clip (57.1 on 2s in Big Ten play).

TEMPO-FREE PREVIEW

We’ve transitioned to conference-only stats for these charts moving forward and it really lays out some of the extremes on IU’s overall profile.

The Hoosiers are the Big Ten’s best offensive unit despite having the league’s worst turnover percentage. That’s driven by elite shooting and offensive rebounding. Defensively, Indiana is 12th in points per possession allowed, 13th in opponent free throw rate and 14th in opponent turnover percentage.

The standout on the Rutgers profile is the offensive rebounding. The Scarlet Knights are third in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. Rutgers has the Big Ten’s worst offense at just .82 points per possession. Given that Indiana’s defense has yet to give up fewer than 1.14 points per possession in a league game, it’s worth tracking how much resistance the Hoosiers put up against a mediocre offensive team.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO

Indiana is a 15-point KenPom favorite and a 16-point favorite according to the Sagarin ratings.

It probably goes without saying, but this is a must-win for Indiana. A 1-4 Big Ten start, including three home losses, would be a catastrophe. If you believe in the theory of building momentum going into the next game, the way Indiana plays on Sunday is far more important than just getting a win.

The Hoosiers have a season defining stretch coming after the Rutgers game: at Penn State, Michigan State at home, at Michigan and at Northwestern. Anything less than 2-2 in those games and the prospects for a winning record in the Big Ten begin to look slim. And a subpar performance against Rutgers, even in a win, isn’t a way to springboard the Hoosiers into that stretch with any confidence.

Yes, it’s still early in Big Ten play, but time is running thin on Indiana to turn this season around.

(Photo credit: Rich Graessle, Rutgers Athletics)