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
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.
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
The Scarlet Knights (4-0) are off to their best start since 2000 and return to the RAC to take on North Texas (1-2) on Wednesday night. There seems to be a genuine buzz building around RU early on in the season, and on Sunday, Steve Pikiell became the first coach to begin his tenure with 4 consecutive wins.
Rutgers will face a quick turnaround after this game, as they face Hartford on Friday afternoon at the RAC. But for now, the only focus is North Texas.
Here’s what I’m looking for:
- Corey Sanders return – In case you’ve forgotten, Corey was ejected after a second technical foul against Niagara. In the postgame press conference, it was obvious that Pike was not happy with the way Corey handled himself on the court. Personally, I didn’t see much in either technical, but I agree that Corey has to use a little more restraint. Especially considering that he was suspended last year for multiple games. I think he understands that now and is ready to move forward, and I expect a big game from him on Wednesday.
- More exceptional bench play – The reserves were incredible against Niagara, running up a 42-3 advantage in bench points. I would think that Nigel Johnson eventually breaks into the starting lineup, and maybe that even happens for this game. Even if he does though, there is still plenty of talent available to spell the starters. Candido Sa and Mike Williams, in particular, have both been excellent so far.
- Fast start – I know, I know. This was one of my keys for last game too. But I think it’s even more important here with the quick turnaround afterwards. North Texas is currently ranked at #287 by KenPom, while Rutgers has moved up to #151. North Texas also lost to Drexel by 21, just one week after Rutgers beat Drexel by 21. These are positive signs for RU. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but I’d love to see us come out of the gates fast and put this one away early.
As great as it is to be 4-0, I’m sure Steve Pikiell is doing everything he can to keep the players grounded and playing as a team. The focus for this week has to be avoiding any letdowns and adding two more W’s.
That starts tomorrow night at the RAC.
College basketball’s Associated Press Top 25 poll was released today, and with it came some surprising news…
Apparently, Rutgers fans aren’t the only ones who have been impressed with Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights this season.
The lone vote came from Scott Wolf, who covers the USC Trojans for the Los Angeles Daily News. Wolf had Rutgers ranked at #25 in his poll.
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.