When watching a young team, you first want to see something click with the players. Last game, it was the ball movement and impressive offense. The freshman knew where to be and knew where to move the ball, the sophomores and juniors did as well. And Dane Miller turned in a performance worthy of a veteran leader.
After you see it click, you want to see it stick around. Rutgers was able to move the ball throughout this game, and though the shots didn't always go down, there were few bad shots and the ball movement was crisp. And Dane Miller dove into the Gatorade cooler trying to save the ball. He continued to set the tone.
And something else clicked too. The defense.
More after the jump....When one thinks about Mike Rice's defensive philosophy, one rarely ever thinks about the zone. But against a Hampton team coming off an NCAA bid and fielding several seniors, Rutgers caught them by surprise, showing a match-up trapping zone. It flummoxed Hampton, forcing bad shots including several 25 foot three points with a hand in their face. And once Hampton would adjust to the zone, Rutgers would change the look. They'd throw a press out on the floor (in the second half) or switch back to Rice's trademark switching man to man.
Rutgers has the athletes this year to play a trapping zone for more than a possession or two in a row. Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, and Eli Carter jumped to the ball--got in the offensive player's face. Austin Carroll and Mike Poole chipped in with smart defense too. And the Knights forced 26 turnovers, including 17 in the first half. It allowed an offense slowed by missed shots (not bad shots, just missed), to get out on the fast break, get fouled, and do their damage at the free throw line.
On the offensive end, Seagears and Gilvydas Biruta were the most impressive. Because the zone kept him out of foul trouble, Biruta was able to tally 17 points and 12 rebounds. Two of those 17 came on a beautiful one handed alley oop slam from Seagears. Can't say enough about this play, as Biruta was able to streak in from well behind the play. SportsCenter worthy stuff.
Seagears also scored in double digits.
In fact, no one stood out as playing poorly. Austin Johnson was a game changer on the defensive end with 3 charges taken. He also was able to the put the ball in the basket.
Rutgers only shot 24% in the first half, and still lead by 7 at the break. This may have been Rutgers' most complete game in terms of execution this year. The shots didn't fall, but there are going to be days that happens. The key is to find ways to win when they aren't.
Rutgers did against a team heavy on experience. Hopefully this is just another thing that sticks around for the rest of the season.