The Indiana Hoosiers avoided a bad start to conference play by defeating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 79-72 in Piscataway, New Jersey on Wednesday to win IU’s first Big Ten game of this season.
The close score and the quality of opponent (Rutgers was ranked as the 245th ranked team according to Kenpom) may have Hoosier Nation very worried going forward but the truth is that this was a good win considering the circumstances.
The Hoosiers faced an uphill challenge from the beginning of the game when James Blackmon Jr. was ruled out due to a knee injury he suffered during one of the practices heading into conference play. The Hoosiers faced even more adversity when Thomas Bryant got in early foul trouble and stayed in foul trouble all game before fouling out in the second half. In total, Bryant played all of six minutes and only contributed three points and a single rebound.
Then there was the turnovers. The Hoosiers finished the game with 23 of them and the biggest problem was that they came from players you’d least expect. Starting Guards Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Rob Johnson combined for 11 turnovers (six for Ferrell and five for Johnson) and Troy Williams, who does have a tendency to get too careless with the basketball, had a shockingly bad day even for him as he committed more turnovers (7) then he grabbed rebounds (6).
While most of these troubles were self-inflicted, the Hoosiers should still be given credit for overcoming everything to win their first conference game as well as their first road game of the season (the Maui Invitational counting as neutral site games).
Collin Hartman did a good job filling in for the injured Blackmon Jr. as he finished with nine points, including two three-pointers in the first few minutes of the game, and also added two rebounds.
However, the biggest story was Max Bielfeldt.
Unlike Hartman, Bielfeldt didn’t come into the game knowing he would have to make up for a starter’s lost production. Yet Bielfeldt filled in magnificently for the foul-plagued Bryant by tying a career-high 18 points as well as grabbing a team-high 14 rebounds. His combination of passing, scoring, and interior defense was almost Zellerish at times and was greatly needed for the Hoosiers to beat a very aggressive Rutgers team.
While Bryant didn’t have a great first Big Ten game, O.G. Anunoby did. The freshman from Missouri played his best game yet as he finished with eight points, seven rebounds, and two steals while also making two more three-pointers.
Longtime reserve Ryan Burton also made two three-pointers for an Indiana bench that nearly outscored the starters (42-37). Ferrell had a terrible first half but played significantly better in the second half as he ended up leading the Hoosiers in points (20) and assists (7).
The Hoosiers will get to celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day but will play again on Saturday at Nebraska before returning home to face Wisconsin next Tuesday.