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Indiana men’s basketball loses bubble battle to Rutgers 66-63

Ron Harper Jr. likely sent the Hoosiers’ tournament hopes out the door with their fans.

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

March games seem to usually end like that.

Big plays throughout the game, maybe a bit of tension here and there and then one play, a shining moment if you will, to end it all.

Indiana men’s basketball was simply on the wrong end of it in a 66-63 loss.

“You’ve got to give Rutgers credit,” head coach Mike Woodson said in a postgame press conference. “They’ve been playing well although they’ve lost three in a row. They’ve beaten some good teams in the Big Ten this year.”

Both Indiana and Rutgers entered this matchup on the edge of the bubble by most projections. The two were side by side in Joe Lunardi’s last four in going into this game, with Lunardi giving slight favor to the Hoosiers.

Indiana had an 18-10 overall record and was at .500 in the Big Ten with a mark of 9-9. Rutgers, on the other hand, had an overall record of 16-12 with a 10-8 mark in the Big Ten.

Something was gonna give on Wednesday night. One team would push the other out, and a late 3-pointer from Ron Harper Jr. did just that. With Race Thompson in his face and the clock ticking down, Harper Jr. called his own number to end the night for Rutgers.

It was an answer, Indiana’s Parker Stewart had just knocked down a 3-pointer on his second attempt on the other end of the court to tie the game. Any points on that last possession would have all but won the game for the Scarlet Knights.

So, how’d it get to that point?

Indiana had a strong first half, particularly from forwards Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis, the latter of whom scored 15 points before halftime. Jackson-Davis would get into the paint, and Rutgers just couldn’t stop him from scoring.

Half of Indiana’s 32 first half points came in the paint, the Hoosiers had 18 rebounds to Rutgers’ 12 and they scored 9 points off of 7 turnovers by the Scarlet Knights. But only 2 of the Hoosiers’ 11 attempts from beyond the arc fell.

The Hoosiers were poised to take a 10-point lead into halftime until a 3-pointer by Geo Baker at the buzzer trimmed the lead to 32-25. Indiana was in a good spot and had a formula to score between Jackson-Davis and Thompson on the interior.

The same cannot be said for the second half. Indiana and Rutgers trading scoring opportunities in the opening minutes before the Scarlet Knights went on a 10-0 run to take a lead that was ended thanks in part due to a media timeout.

Rutgers had answers on both ends of the court. The Scarlet Knights dropped into a zone in an attempt to prevent Indiana’s offense from scoring in the interior. It led to just 2 points from the field from Jackson-Davis, who ended the half scoring 4 points in total thanks to free throws.

The rebounding battle turned in Rutgers’ favor as well, as the Scarlet Knights beat Indiana on the boards with 21 second half rebounds to the Hoosiers’ 13.

“He was beating the double-teams early, and then they just basically sagged and forced us to make shots,” Woodson said of Jackson-Davis.

And make shots they didn’t, the Hoosiers shot 40% from the field during the second half, going 4-10 on 3-pointers. This wasn’t due to a lack of opportunities, Woodson said, Indiana just didn’t make the most of what it got.

Harper Jr. sent Indiana’s fans to the exit and the Hoosiers’ tournament hopes into doubt with his final shot. But Woodson ended the night on a positive note.

“We’re going to have to win some games probably in the tournament as well, but it’s not over,” Woodson said. “We’ve got to keep fighting.”