Until less than a week ago, there was exactly one thing about his Indiana team that Archie Miller could say was critical. One thing he could count on no matter what happened.
He couldn’t promise his Hoosiers could shoot the ball, especially not from the outside. He couldn’t promise they would defend as well as his best Dayton teams did, especially on the perimeter. Sometimes they flipped the ball too much. Sometimes free throws missed. Sometimes they started out slow. Sometimes they would fade on the stretch.
But he could trust that they would fight. They would not fold if they fell behind by double digits or had a double digit lead. They could continue with scoring droughts of six or seven minutes, but they will find enough offense to make the game competitive again, at least for a while. They lost almost as much as they gained, but were rarely embarrassed.
But after a 74-63 loss to Rutgers on Wednesday night in New Jersey, Miller couldn’t deny reality. Their Hoosiers had been completely weakened and run out of gym in a critically important game against an opponent who entered Wednesday night in positions very similar to them both in the Big Ten standings and in the Tournament image. the NCAA.
And perhaps at the worst possible moment, the team Miller is coaching seems lost and broken.
“What we’ve really put our hats on is that we could really ditch and compete and make it anyone’s game,” Miller said. “In our last two second halves, particularly when things have not gone well, our defense and just our rigidity, our ability to communicate, our response has not given us a chance. … We tend to get more in ourselves. We tend not to return. Right now, we tend not to compete fiercely over how we have to to stay in the game. “
The Indiana team that led Minnesota 82-72 in a bubble tag team battle at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall last week already feels like a distant memory. After collapsing on the defensive end in the second half of Saturday’s loss to Michigan State, the Hoosiers collapsed against Rutgers at both ends Wednesday after another promising start and were never close to recovering.
The more Miller talked about it Wednesday night, the more deflated he sounded, and for good reason. With three regular-season games remaining on the schedule, the Hoosiers are 12-11 overall, 7-9 in the Big Ten. The strength of the conference and the uneven nature of the COVID-plagued 2020-21 season gives them more hope for a spot in the NCAA Tournament than that level of mediocrity would normally provide. However, the Hoosiers are down to three regular-season games, one at home on Saturday against No. 3 Michigan and two on the road the following week at Michigan State and at Purdue before the Big Ten tournament the following week.
It’s hard to imagine the Hoosiers coming in if they don’t win at least two of the three, and the way they’re playing now it’s hard to imagine them winning just one of them. And if they don’t make it and continue their downward spiral, Miller’s future as the Hoosiers head coach becomes even more uncertain. His heavy buying and pandemic pressure on sports department finances across the country could spare him the ax in 2021, but a late-season meltdown in his fourth year on the job will be hard to beat in the long run. .
“I think it’s the first time all season that our team looks really fractured,” Miller said. “Where we did not know how to compete. What to do. That goes back to me. I have to figure this out and get our team off the mat here. “
Just as they did Saturday when they took a 19-6 lead over Michigan State early in the first half, it was Indiana who put Rutgers on the mat early Wednesday night. Thanks to four first 3-pointers by senior guard Aljami Durham, including one who took advantage of the end of the shot clock, the Hoosiers made nine of their first 15 shots and took a 23-8 lead with 9:42 left in the first half. Rutgers started 4 of 13 from the field and Indiana was in full control at both ends.
But the Hoosiers collapse was swift and devastating.
After missing his first seven 3-point shots, Rutgers finished the first half making seven of his last eight and also hit his first two of the second half. They made 17 of their 25 field goals between the 7:58 mark of the first half and the 12:23 mark of the first half.
And when Rutgers’ offense flared up, Indiana’s froze. After making 9 of their first 15 shots, the Hoosiers made nine of their next 40 between the fourth and fifth 3-pointers of Durham’s game, which came with just 3:05 left in the game. Rutgers outscored Indiana 62-27 in that stretch to take a 70-50 lead.
A lot of things went wrong for Indiana in that period. Second-year guard Armaan Franklin, the team’s second leading scorer, aggravated his left ankle pain late in the first half and did not return in the second half. He left the game with zero points on 0 of 3 shots. Point guards Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander were healthy but still couldn’t get the ball in the bucket, combining to also score zero points on 0 of 10 shots. Durham finished with 20 points and second-year center Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 21, but the rest of the team had just 22 on 8 of 33 shots. Freshman Jordan Geronimo scored eight of those points on 3 of 4 shots and all his cubes came in the final 2:23 of the game.
The Hoosiers turned the ball around 13 times and saw 10 of their shots blocked and didn’t block a single Rutgers attempt. The Scarlet Knights finished with 22 fast break points and nine dunks and each insult added to the injury and led the Hoosiers to shrink further and further into their shells.
“When things aren’t going well,” Miller said. “Whether it’s a lack of confidence offensively or things get difficult for us, our response is not to run harder, talk more, focus more, talk about the things we can control. … When things don’t go our way, we don’t adjust a little more. We don’t get a little smarter. We fractured a little more. “
Miller said he needs better player leadership right now to prevent that from happening, and there is no obvious source to get that from. They have some veterans like Durham, Jackson-Davis, Franklin and the red jersey junior forward Race Thompson who provide some calmer forms of leadership, but none that provide more punchy variety. It seemed to suggest that it was not the kind of leadership he could provide himself.
“We are looking for an emotional type,” Miller said. “A guy who can really look at and who can help us. We are a generally quiet group. I don’t think we have an alpha personality. I definitely think that right now we need some guys to step up within our own ranks, within our own locker room. We have to fix some things, because I think we lack confidence in certain moments when things are not going well.
Late February is not the best time to be confident, and the Hoosiers are almost out of time to fix what is clearly and deeply broken.
“I think we can get it back,” Miller said. “… We have a great ending. We have a lot at stake. We have many things in front of us. We have worked very hard to get there. We have a great opportunity on Saturday at home. But it will not work in any game that we play the rest of the season if our competitiveness and our concentration when things are not going well do not recover ”.
SEE ALSO: Three Keys, Highlights, Statistics | Miller and Durham after the game | Notes, trends and numbers
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