Indiana found itself Thursday. Now the Hoosiers have to avoid getting lost again.
Indiana earned arguably its most important victory of the Archie Miller Era when it defeated No. 4 Iowa on the road in its most recent matchup, but that triumph won't mean much if the Hoosiers can't find a way to use it as a springboard for a longer run of success.
“Coming off the loss to Purdue (on Jan. 14), we were kind of a lost team,” forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said after the Hoosiers beat the Hawkeyes. “Just getting our legs back under us, our defensive intensity was raised in practice, Coach (Miller) wasn't allowing slippage in practice and I thought really translated over to the game.”
Indiana (9-6, 4-4 Big Ten) had a week to recover after the loss to the Boilermakers and had fresh legs when they faced the Hawkeyes.
When they face Rutgers (7-6, 3-6) this afternoon at Assembly Hall, they will have only two days of rest, but they will need the same level of intensity on the defensive end that held the Hawkeyes, one of the best offensive teams in the country, 23 points below their season average.
“The mood of the team is not satisfied,” forward Jordan Geronimo said. “We're still hungry to prove ourselves. After the Iowa game, we have a game (today), so we have to turn the page quick and go on to the next one. We're just hungry to get more 'W's.”
One way that Indiana can stay fresh going forward is to lengthen its bench, a strategy Miller has wanted to pursue most of the season. Geronimo might be the key to making that work.
The freshman from Newark, New Jersey, had previously struggled to break into the rotation, but burst onto the scene against Iowa, scoring seven points on 3-for-3 shooting and using his off-the-charts athleticism to surprisingly hold his own in one-on-one matchups against National Player of the Year Luka Garza.
Though Geronimo is only 6-foot-6, he's long and athletic enough that he can act as Indiana's third big man, giving Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson a little bit of extra rest. Those are minutes the Hoosiers have struggled to fill this season with fifth-year senior center Joey Brunk sidelined with a back injury.
Geronimo's presence could be even more important if fellow freshman Trey Galloway is out again. The guard from Culver missed the game against Iowa with a sore back.
“I just try to find a way to contribute to the team as much as possible, offensively, defensively, whatever they need to win,” Geronimo said. “I just want to be that guy to be able to contribute.”
The Hoosiers are hosting a Rutgers team that is at a crossroads. The Scarlet Knights started the season 6-0 and rose as high as No. 11 in the rankings as they look for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. They've cooled off significantly in recent weeks, however, losing their last five in a row, including a 75-67 loss to Penn State on Thursday.
“I got to figure it out,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “It's on me as the head coach. I have to do a better job of getting these guys ready to go. I didn't, so (the loss to Penn State) is 100% on Coach Pikiell.”
Rutgers has been one of the Big Ten's toughest and most physical teams in recent years, but was out-rebounded by Penn State 38-26. If Pikiell's postgame comments are any indication, it seems as though the Scarlet Knights will try to get back to basics against the Hoosiers and Indiana will have to be ready to match a desperate team's intensity.
“The narrative of our program has always been that we defend and we rebound,” Pikiell added. “We got to be more consistent with what we do. I have to do a better job and I do have confidence in our guys.”
Indiana vs. Rutgers
When: Noon today
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (9-6, 4-4 Big Ten), Rutgers (7-6, 3-6)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 92.3 FM