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
Quick turnaround for Rutgers (5-0) as they get back in action against Hartford (1-4) on Friday afternoon. This is shaping up to be a classic trap game for the Knights, who face Miami on Wednesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
So the question is, will Rutgers be able to stay focused on the task at hand and improve to 6-0?
Here’s what I’ll be looking for:
- Field goal defense – Rutgers ranks 23rd in the nation in Field Goal Defense, allowing opponents to only shoot 35.8% so far. Hartford ranks 282nd in the nation in Field Goal Percentage (40.9%). On paper, Rutgers should be able to handle this team defensively. But stranger things have happened.
- Reducing the turnovers – One of the areas that has been problematic for us this season has been turnovers, with an average of 13 per game. At times in the first half against North Texas, the offense looked confused and out of sync. We’ve been lucky to overcome such issues so far, but this needs to be cleaned up before we get into the heart of the schedule.
- Increasing our rebounding margin – Another major statistical advantage for Rutgers. Currently, the Knights are 3rd in the nation with a 19.8 rebound margin over their opponents. Hartford is at the opposite end of the spectrum: 334th in the nation with a -9.8 rebound margin. Like several of our opponents so far, they also don’t have a rotation player taller than 6’8″. We need to use our size to our advantage and take care of business on the boards.
As I said in the preview for North Texas, the team’s job this week is to avoid any letdowns. We already put one game in the win column. We need to do the same on Friday afternoon against Hartford.