Indiana hadn't played in eight days because of the Christmas holiday, and it showed on Wednesday afternoon. The Hoosiers survived an ugly conference opener with a 79-72 win at Rutgers, but like they have many times this season, they left a lot to be desired in a winning effort. Here are five things you should know following the Hoosiers' road win on Wednesday.
1. PLAYING DOWN TO THE COMPETITION: It's become a theme to this young Indiana season, despite the experience on the team's roster. The Hoosiers consistently play down to the competition against lesser opponents, and they're so careless and sloppy that they don't even seem to care. It happened on the trip to Maui in November, and again against Rutgers on Wednesday.
The game closely resembled the Maui contest against St. John's. It seemed pretty clear throughout that the Hoosiers would win, but that it would feel more like a loss because of the way the Hoosiers played. It just left a bad taste in your mouth. Ugly, careless basketball against the only team in the Big Ten that Indiana could get away with such play.
Indiana (11-3, 1-0 Big Ten) had a season-high 23 turnovers, including 7 from Troy Williams, 6 from Yogi Ferrell, and 5 from Robert Johnson. As of Wednesday afternoon, Williams was leading all Power Conference players with 45 turnovers on the season. Tom Crean has been using him more and more as an initiator to the offense, but that can't continue to happen with the careless mistakes he consistently makes.
Ferrell was awful in the first half -- maybe the worst half he's played in his IU career -- and Johnson, who has been one of Indiana's best players all year, had 0 points and 5 turnovers.
Rutgers got more than half of its 72 points (37) off of Indiana turnovers.
"We turned it over way too much, and too many of them were unforced," Crean said afterward. "We've got to get that rectified. But the bottom line is, we found a way to win the game. You come on the road and win in the Big Ten, we're going to take it."
Indiana got away with its careless basketball against Rutgers, but if that performance is replicated, the Hoosiers won't get away with it again.
"We did not play a great game," Crean said. "At all. But we found a way to win it despite that, and we got better inside of it. We just can't give the ball back to other teams with unforced turnovers and expect to have a lot of success. We've got to get better there."
2. BRYANT'S RUDE WELCOME TO THE BIG TEN: Thomas Bryant has had a tumultuous freshman season, and that continued against Rutgers. Foul trouble led to an unfavorable Big Ten opener for the freshman, who fouled out in only six minutes of action. Bryant, a former McDonald's All-American, finished with 3 points and 1 rebound.
Bryant picked up two fouls in the first 4:52 of the game, and went to the bench. He returned to the game with 8:52 left in the first half, but picked up his third foul only 28 seconds later. Bryant sat for the remainder of the half and the start of the second half.
He subbed in at the 15:16 mark of the second half, promptly turned the ball over, then picked up his fourth foul only 36 seconds after re-entering. Bryant went back to the bench. He returned for the final time with 5:52 left, and fouled out only 35 seconds later.
Bryant played only 1 minute, 39 seconds after logging the first 4:52 of the game. For the non-math majors out there, that means Bryant played only 1:39 of the final 35:08. That's a day to forget.
"It's one game, and the sky is not falling," Crean said. "He's coming off a tremendous game. We'll just see what we have to do to help him improve and go from there."
3. STEADY BIELFELDT OWNS RUTGERS: He doesn't get a lot of attention or publicity, but Michigan grad transfer Max Bielfeldt continues to be a steady, consistent presence for the Hoosiers. Bielfeldt has been especially strong when his teammates have struggled, which makes him an incredibly vital part to the Hoosiers' core going forward.
Bielfeldt isn't all that big or talented, but he's patient, understands how to play, and is among the most consistent players on the roster.
Oh, and he loves playing Rutgers (who doesn't?).
Bielfeldt matched a career-high with 18 points and set a career-high with 14 rebounds in Wednesday's win, and he did it in only 26 minutes. Bielfeldt also had 18 points for Michigan against Bucknell last season.
In three career games against Rutgers, Bielfeldt has 40 points and 33 rebounds (13.3 ppg, 11 rpg). He had 14 points and 11 rebounds in a game against the Scarlet Knights for Michigan a year ago. Bielfeldt is now averaging 8.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game this season.
"That helped us," Crean said of Bielfeldt's past success against Rutgers. "He already had some confidence against them."
4. SURGING BENCH RESCUES STRUGGLING STARTERS: Indiana was without guard James Blackmon Jr. (knee) on Wednesday, so you knew some other players were going to have to step up. But because of the struggles of guys like Robert Johnson and Troy Williams, Crean desperately needed production from his bench.
He got it, and then some.
In addition to Bielfeldt, walk-on Ryan Burton, freshmen O.G. Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, and regular reserve Collin Hartman, rescued the Hoosiers when the starters were struggling. Hartman started in place of Blackmon, and he got Indiana going quickly. Hartman made two of his three 3-pointers in the opening minutes, and finished with 9 points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc.
Burton, a walk-on from Bedford, made both of his attempts from beyond the arc for 6 points in 10 minutes.
Anunoby continues to earn more minutes, and you could argue that other than Bielfeldt, he was the biggest bright spot for the Hoosiers on Wednesday. Anunoby had 8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and a block in 15 minutes off the bench. He also made both of his attempts from deep, giving him three 3-pointers in his last two games. Perimeter shooting was one of Anunoby's biggest weaknesses at the high school level, so he's clearly spent a significant amount of time working on that area of his game.
Morgan, who continues to work his way back from injury, had 2 points, 3 rebounds and a steal in 6 minutes of action.
Stat of the day: Indiana's bench combined for 37 points and only one turnover in 75 total minutes. The starters combined for 42 points and 22 turnovers in 125 total minutes. The bench also combined for 6 of Indiana's 10 3-pointers, and Hartman, a regular reserve, had 3 of the starters' 4.
"We got a lot of contributions, and that's what a team has got to have," Crean said. "It's like baseball. The best managers find ways to get guys innings. They find ways to get those position players in the game for not just pinch hits, but for 2 or 3 innings in left field or right field. That's what we've got to be able to do, and we tried to do that a little bit. So Ryan steps in, O.G. plays much better. Max is not one of those guys. Max is like a starter for us."
5. BLACKMON'S KNEE INJURY: Sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. suffered a knee injury "toward the end of Monday's practice" in Bloomington and missed Wednesday's game. Crean said afterward that they are still in the evaluation stage of the injury and that Blackmon is in the hands of the team doctors. Blackmon was at Wednesday's game and sat on the bench in sweats. He did not use crutches.
Crean said it was a non-contact injury that occurred during a drill.
"He just went down wrong," Crean said.
Blackmon is Indiana's second-leading scorer at 15.8 points per game. There is currently no timetable for his return. The Hoosiers return to action on Saturday at Nebraska.
"It's not just the shots he makes, and it's not just the percentages he has," Crean said. "He makes the game easier for everybody else because you can never not account for James. That creates more openings. And there was less space today. It got better in the second half because we moved more, and guys made shots."