Defense wins games, and the IU men’s basketball team witnessed that against Rutgers on Sunday firsthand.
In the past five games IU has relied heavily on its offense to keep the Hoosiers in games, and IU has ultimately lost four of those five games. However, on Sunday afternoon when the shots weren’t falling and IU was just four-for-22 from beyond the arc, it was the 21 forced turnovers by the Hoosier defense that led them past the Scarlet Knights, 76-57. IU moved to 2-3 in Big Ten play and 12-6 overall.
“Really that’s what we focus on because that’s when we’re at best and able to just run out because we have so many athletes on our team,” junior guard James Blackmon Jr. said. “That’s our main focus, and I feel like we did that tonight.”
Before the Rutgers game, IU Coach Tom Crean said there’s another gear Anunoby can get to and he and the coaching staff are working hard to get it to come out more consistently. Against Rutgers that second gear was on full display.
IU had 14 steals on the afternoon, and Anunoby recorded half of them. His seven steals ties him for the fourth most steals all time in a single IU game and led to 21 fast-break points for the Hoosiers, including three transition dunks for the potential NBA lottery pick.
“OG is so athletic and creative. He posts many problems,” Rutgers Coach Steve Pikiell said. “Their offensive numbers are off the charts every year. They shoot 3s they make free throws and are efficient. Anunoby is just another big problem we have to prepare for in a game like this among many.”
Anunoby said playing harder on defense by jumping the gaps and playing more aggressively with their hands led to monstrous turnaround after starting the game poorly.
Rutgers’ offense isn’t going to blow any Big Ten team away, and after the first six minutes when the Scarlet Knights were scoring 1.4 points per possession, the Hoosiers held them to 42 points for the final 34 minutes of the game.
The 21 turnovers the Hoosiers forced were a season-high and the most in a conference game since they forced 21 against Iowa on Jan. 24, 2010, although Sunday was the first time all year IU was out-rebounded by its opponent. Rutgers grabbed the edge, 38-29, on the glass.
Crean said his team wasn’t as sharp in some areas Sunday that they normally are, but the defense was there all game and ultimately led to the victory.
“We had some open shots. They challenged some shots, but we didn’t make as many today,” Crean said. “We didn’t get as many offensive rebounds, but we were able to get back on defense and set our defense, we were able to create turnovers and get the fast break going and even though we didn’t win the rebounding game, we were able to get some timely ones. For us there’s a lot of different ways we can play.”