The Scarlet Knights fought hard but couldn’t keep up with Miami on Wednesday night, resulting in our first loss of the season (6-1).
The Miami lead was only 6 points at the half, but Rutgers went ice cold early in the second half, going 8 minutes without scoring a point. That allowed the Hurricanes to extend it to a 21 point gap with 11 minutes left to play.
The Knights continued to fight through the rough patch, and cut the lead to 10 at one point, using a healthy dose of their full-court press. But it wasn’t enough, and Miami finished off a 73-61 win.
Here are the key takeaways for me:
- Killed on the glass – This was a complete 180 from what we’ve seen through the first 6 games. Rutgers entered with gaudy team rebounding numbers, but Miami dominated the boards in this one. The final margin was 44-32, and honestly, I was surprised to see it was that close. We looked a step too slow and our box-outs left a lot to be desired. Miami was easily the most athletic team we’ve faced so far and they made us pay for the mistakes.
- Shooting woes – The final numbers weren’t pretty. 36% from the field, 20% from 3-point land. But as I highlighted in the game preview, that’s what Miami does to opponents. Rutgers’ shooting actually improved quite a bit in the last 9 minutes, but it was too little too late. It’s very hard to win a road game when the numbers are that poor. The ball movement was good, the looks were there, we just couldn’t capitalize tonight.
- Effort to the end – I don’t want to overstate this because I’m not big on moral victories, but I appreciated the fight the guys had all the way to the end. Being down 21 points on the road midway through the second half is not an easy position to be in, but they continued to work on the defensive end. The full-court pressure was effective and forced a few turnovers. I would bet this is something we use more moving forward. Overall, not a great night from a shooting standpoint or even a fundamentals standpoint, but we never gave up.
Next up — vs. Morgan State on Saturday night at the RAC
If you read the game preview post for this one, you’ll remember I highlighted three areas that we needed to focus on – field goal defense, reducing turnovers, and rebounding. Let’s just say Rutgers went 0 for 3 in those areas. Fortunately though, we were still able to get a win, thanks to a late run and some tremendous defense down the stretch.
Here are the key takeaways from a hard-fought game:
- Deshawn Freeman is a star – Simply put, the Knights don’t come close to winning this game without Freeman. After posting 13 points and 15 rebounds against North Texas on Wednesday, Freeman was even better in this one, finishing with 26 points and 10 rebounds. I thought he brought great energy and it was obvious that his play was igniting his teammates and the crowd. Just an all-around excellent performance from our captain.
- The atmosphere at the RAC – Without question, the loudest I’ve heard the RAC in a long time. And not just during the late run. The crowd was into the game throughout, praising the defensive effort, applauding hustle plays, and doing everything they could to make Hartford uncomfortable towards the end. The student section was, not surprisingly, a little light (afternoon game right after a holiday), but the fans who were there definitely made an impact. If we can rock the RAC like that consistently, it will be a huge advantage moving forward.
- Resiliency – This is the first time this season that Rutgers faced a deficit in the last 5 minutes, and they rose to the challenge. Down 70-57 with 5:02 left, the Knights responded with a 20-5 run to grab the win, capped off by a CJ Gettys put-back with 6 seconds remaining. With only one day to prepare, Rutgers struggled defensively to keep up with hot-shooting Hartford. But they never gave up, and managed to regain their footing just in time. If there were any doubts about this team buying in, they were put to rest today.
As an added bonus, here is that closing sequence one more time. Enjoy.
Next Up – at Miami on Wednesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge
The Scarlet Knights (5-0) stayed perfect on Wednesday night, defeating North Texas (1-3) by a score of 66-53.
The first half was slow and plodding, with both teams getting off to an ice cold start. But as has been the case often this year, Rutgers surged in the second half and pulled away for a comfortable win.
Here are the most important takeaways:
- Master of Adjustments – I don’t know what Pike is telling his guys in the locker room, but whatever it is, it’s working. This was the third game in a row that’s been tight going to the break, and each time we’ve taken over the game and extended the lead in the second half. This time, it was a 18-2 Rutgers run midway through the second half that did the damage.
- Overcoming a poor shooting night – You want a positive sign from a fairly sloppy game? How about Rutgers shooting 37% from the field and 15% from 3-point range and still winning by double-digits? Luckily, the best ways to overcome poor shooting are the two biggest strengths of this team – defense and rebounding. Rutgers was excellent in both areas again tonight, holding North Texas to 33% from the field and winning the rebounding battle 53-28. Even more impressive, the Knights were able to defend without fouling, giving North Texas only 6 free throw attempts overall.
- The Captain breaks out – Deshawn Freeman was one of the few bright spots on last year’s team, but struggled to establish himself in the game against Niagara. Not tonight. He posted 13 points and 15 rebounds in 28 minutes and was the best player on the floor for extended stretches. This was his third double-double on the season.
Next Up – Hartford on Friday afternoon at the RAC
Rutgers (4-0) used a dominating bench performance to take down Niagara (0-4) this afternoon by a score of 78-65. The win helped them reach 4-0 for the first time since 2000.
The game had its share of chippiness, and Corey Sanders was ejected after receiving his second technical midway through the second half. But the Knights persevered and picked up their fourth consecutive win to open the season. Steve Pikiell also became the first coach in school history to begin his tenure 4-0.
Here are the most important takeaways:
- Interchangeable parts – This is easily the deepest team we’ve had in a long time, and that depth had a major impact on this game. Our bench outscored Niagara’s bench 42-3, with Nigel Johnson’s 20 points leading the way. Candido Sa, Mike Williams, and Eugene Omoruyi also played well on both ends of the floor. Most importantly, when Corey Sanders was ejected, we didn’t skip a beat. Huge plus.
- Block party at the RAC – Steve Pikiell hangs his hat on defense, and the team defense was suffocating today. In total, Rutgers accounted for 11 blocks. Candido Sa led the way with 4, while CJ Gettys added 3, but that doesn’t even begin to describe all the shots altered on the way to the rim. Niagara shot just 31% on the day, but only 23% from 2-point territory. Had it not been for their hot 3-point shooting (50%), this game would have been a blowout.
- Another big run to take control – At the 14:53 mark of the second half, Marvin Prochet hit a 3 to give Niagara a 42-41 lead. Over the next 5 minutes of game action, Rutgers went on a 16-0 run which effectively put the game on ice. This has been another common theme of the young season, and it’s nice to see the team fighting through adversity and imposing their will.
- Weird day for the officials – Usually, I don’t harp on the officiating, but this was a weird one. In the first half, only 11 total fouls were called (6 on Niagara, 5 on Rutgers). The refs seemed to want to let the players play. Perfect officiating, in my opinion. But at the start of the second half, they began calling a MUCH tighter game, including touch fouls on the perimeter. And I’m really not sure what happened on the second Corey Sanders technical. It looked like he mumbled to himself (probably disputing the call) and the ref gave him the quick hook. It didn’t impact the game, but again, just a strange performance from the officiating crew.
On Thursday night, Rutgers (3-0) picked up their first road win since December 2014, beating DePaul (1-1) by a score of 66-59.
Say what you will about DePaul, but road trips have not been kind to the Scarlet Knights in recent years, which means any kind of road win is a good one. And the way we won, by overwhelming the Blue Demons for the majority of the game (particularly in the second half, when the lead ballooned to 22 points), shows great strides are being made in the fundamental aspects of the game.
Here are the most important takeaways:
- Second Half Adjustments – For the third game in a row, Rutgers came out flying in the second half. This was a 7-point game at the break, and by the 11:13 mark the lead was up to 22. I love the way Pike rotates his players. They go hard for a few minutes, then get a breather, then go hard again. The short spurts are paying dividends over the course of a long game, as Rutgers consistently seems like the fresher team in the second half. Let’s face it…if Eli Cain doesn’t get hot for DePaul with about 5 minutes left, this is another 20-point win for RU.
- Huge rebounding margin…again – This is becoming a theme. Rutgers was completely dominant on the glass again in this one, to the tune of a 46-27 rebounding advantage (including 18-10 on the offensive glass). In the first half, it was even more lopsided, with RU holding a 28-8 advantage at the break. Before this season, when was the last time you saw Rutgers at +20 on the boards in one half? Mike Williams and Deshawn Freeman led the way with 9 rebounds apiece, and Jonathan Laurent chipped in 6 more.
- Free Throw shooting – I’ll be honest…this has probably been my biggest complaint about Rutgers basketball over the years. Too many times, I’ve watched winnable games be thrown away because we couldn’t make uncontested shots from the foul line. That appears to be a thing of the past. Against DePaul, we hit 23-29 FTs (79%), including 13-14 in the first half. Pleasant surprise.
- Mike Williams continues to impress – When we needed a spark off the bench, Mike Williams came through. I thought he was the player of the game, once again providing energy and intensity when he entered. He finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds, and at times carried us on both ends of the floor. He also seems to be developing as a leader right in front of our eyes. Really impressive performance overall.
With Nigel Johnson and CJ Gettys leading the way, Rutgers defeated Drexel 87-66 on Sunday to move to 2-0 (after a season-opening win against Division II Molloy on Friday night).
The game was never close in the second half, as the Scarlet Knights showed the ability to build a big lead and deter any Drexel run.
Here are the most important takeaways:
- Dominating the Boards – You’ll have to think long and hard for the last time you saw such an impressive rebounding display from a Rutgers team. The final margin was 56-29, with the Knights grabbing 23 offensive rebounds. Deshawn Freeman led the way with 10 and Gettys added 9, but it seems like every RU player was crashing the glass.
- Defensive Prowess – I know Drexel is picked to finish towards the bottom of the CAA, but the Rutgers defense was solid throughout. Besides the rebounding difference, Rutgers also held the Dragons to 38% shooting, and 29% from 3-point range. More importantly, they were able to play tight defense without fouling, committing only 15 fouls in the game.
- Never-Ending Rotation – When Steve Pikiell talked about depth, he wasn’t kidding. Nine guys played 13 minutes or more, and six of those guys played 21 minutes or more. Good sign for Rutgers. Another good sign – on a night when Corey Sanders and Issa Thiam struggled to get going, guys like Nigel Johnson and Candido Sa came off the bench to pick up the slack.
- Effort and Intensity – This is the area that I was most impressed with. After years of watching low-energy, lifeless performances, I watched a team against Drexel that was intense and played together. Talking on defense, bench players actively cheering for their teammates…the little things that show that this team is building chemistry. Although he didn’t fill up the stat sheet, I thought Mike Williams played like a leader, and his defensive pressure and hustle set the tone for the team.
Rutgers took to the court again for a closed door scrimmage with Yale, and it was clear that they are still working out the kinks with less than two weeks to go before the start of the new season. In the end, Yale came out victorious 77-64.
Unlike the previous scrimmage against Monmouth, this one was more of a game-like atmosphere, with full statistic tracking from both sides. Adam Zagoria tweeted out the final box score…
If we dive a little deeper into the numbers, there are a few items that stand out. Some good, some bad…
- Rutgers was terrible from 3-point range – This is likely to be a problem all year. During the preseason, Issa Thiam has been touted as one of (if not the best) long-range shooter on the team, and he finished 0-4 today. The team as a whole finished 1-16 (6%). While I don’t expect it to be this bad every night, we’re just not built to score a lot of points from behind the arc.
- Deshawn Freeman had a solid day at the office – Not to make too much of a preseason scrimmage, but you can’t argue with 22 and 7. Freeman is clearly our most skilled frontcourt player, and if he can build chemistry with Corey Sanders, they have the chance to be a special duo.
- Believe it or not…rebounding might be one of our strengths – When was the last time you could say that about a Rutgers team? We finished with a 44-37 advantage on the glass overall, and a 23-7 advantage on the offensive glass. That’s a lot of extra offensive possessions, and it led to a 28-9 advantage in second-chance points.
- We’re still working on the defense – First off, Yale made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season (although they did lose 4 of their 5 starters). So they’re certainly not a bad team. That being said, we can’t allow a team to shoot 48% from the field. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the point that Steve Pikiell harps on the most at the next practice. It all has to start on defense.