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
On Wednesday night, Rutgers (6-0) travels to Miami (4-2) as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. This is only the second game away from the RAC for the Knights, and will also provide their stiffest test so far.
The Hurricanes started the season with 4 straight wins, but stumbled a bit at the AdvoCare Invitational Tournament, losing their last two games to Iowa State and Florida. In both of those losses, Miami scored only 56 points, well below their 2015-16 scoring average of 75.2 points.
For Rutgers, this is an opportunity to prove themselves on a big stage. They already picked up their first road win since 2014 earlier this month (beating DePaul 66-59), but this is clearly a step up in competition.
Here’s what I’ll be looking for on Wednesday:
- Defense, defense, defense – Both of these teams have been terrific on the defensive end of the floor. Miami is currently 12th in the nation in scoring defense (58.7 ppg), while Rutgers is ranked 37th (62.5 ppg). In addition, Miami is holding opponents to only 37.4% from the field (28th in the nation). Rutgers is not far behind, holding opponents to 37.7% (36th best). Who blinks first?
- Matchup in the paint – Miami will be able to throw more size at us than any team we’ve seen so far. Deshawn Freeman has been excellent recently, and was just named NJ Hoops Player of the Week. CJ Gettys is averaging 9 points and 6 rebounds this season. Candido Sa is averaging 5 rebounds and 2+ blocks per contest. That’s all great, but we’ve had a significant size advantage in every game. So how will our bigs respond to the challenge that the Canes provide?
- Handling the environment – On paper, this is probably the toughest game on our non-conference schedule. This is the type of game that we lose by 25+ last year. But that’s last year. This version of the Scarlet Knights seems much more prepared to handle a difficult environment. Win or lose, I’m expecting us to compete, hustle and defend for 40 minutes. Considering where we were last season, that would be a huge step forward and a great sign for the future.