For three quarters of the game, it looked like the Rutgers of old. Turnovers, fouls, and overall sloppy defensive play let Illinois State run out to a 13 point lead with just over ten minutes to play. Rutgers made a valiant comeback, and even took a late lead, but this was another game where youth shows.
More after the jump...Gilvydas Biruta was tough early, dropping 11 points and pulling down a bunch of rebounds. He was a force. Unfortunately, Illinois St.'s hot shooting meant Rutgers was unable to hide Biruta in a zone defense, and Biruta fouled out with 3 minutes left, just as Rutgers was making a spirited comeback. They were even able to take a 1 point lead twice late in the game. It was, however, just not enough. Rutgers exhaled after their comeback and were not able to hold on.
But the game was not lost in the final minutes. It was lost much earlier.
Rutgers was unable to connect at the free throw line and shot under 50% for the game. Meanwhile, they continually sent St. to the line and they converted. Illinois State hit over 80% throughout the game. And when they didn't get to the line, they hit big three point shots. Illinois State competed and won the way a mid-major usually wins: at the FT line and from behind the arc. Rutgers left too many men open, and State played against RU's zone and switching defense well.
It also took some time for Rutgers to adjust to the arena. They went nearly 5 minutes before they scored their 3rd point. However, late in the first half, Rutgers found its rhythm. Biruta got going and Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, and Eli Carter were impressive offensively. Dane Miller showed off a clutch jump shot to give RU the lead.
Unfortunately the final possession for Rutgers were rushed offensively. They panicked playing from behind and forced things. This is clearly the sign of a young team. Not just freshman, but sophomores and juniors as well. It's going to take time for this team to completely come together.
This game is a microcosm of what this season will probably look like. The team will look great at times, and then look like they've never been on the court before.
Don't give up hope.