How To Watch
Tip-off at Midnight EST, 9pm PST
Radio: Rutgers IMG Radio Network WOR (710 AM) & WCTC (1450 AM); WRSU (88.7 FM)
The Tigers enter this game with a 3-1 record, having lost on Monday to UMass 82-65. Their previous wins are against North Carolina Central, University of Texas - San Antonio, and Texas Southern. They are led by junior forward Jaron Blossomgame, who averages 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Sophomore forward Donte Grantham is second on the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game, as well as 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Both players started last season against Rutgers, with Blossomgame leading Clemson 12 points and 10 rebounds in their 69-64 loss.
Clemson has five other players who average between 7 to 9 points a game this season. Junior guard Avry Holmes and senior Jordan Roper lead the backcourt, totaling 28 assists combined for the season, with only 5 turnovers. Clemson shoots a lot of three-pointers, averaging 24 attempts per game at 35%. Grantham is their best deep threat, shooting 11-24 from deep so far this season, while Holmes is 7-21. Center Landry Nnoko is a presence in the paint, averaging 7.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game.
Five Things to Watch For:
Rutgers needs more bench production in a bad way. Tonight will be their fourth game in seven days and the starters have logged heavy minutes during this stretch. Other than Bishop Daniels playing well in the sixth man role, averaging 15 points the past three games, production has been sparse. Ibrahima Diallo and Jonathan Laurent have scored only 17 points between them in the past three games, with Goode and Grier not scoring at all. These four must step up for Rutgers to have a chance tonight.
Personally, I'm shocked how little Grier is playing and contributing on the floor, when he does play. He has a ton of game experience and is a seasoned three-point shooter. He seems lost out there, which must be the case in practice, leading to so few minutes in games. Goode and Laurent are freshman and are still getting their feet wet. They both have potential and the sooner they can get comfortable and elevate their game, the better. Diallo wasn't expected to be a scorer, but he is only averaging 3 rebounds without any blocks in 13 minutes during this three game stretch. Clemson has two legitimate centers in Nnoko and Sidy Djitte, so he will need to show up in a big way tonight.
Which leads us to senior center Greg Lewis, who has been non-existent this season so far. Even though he is starting, Lewis is only averaging 13.4 minutes per game, along with just 2 points, 4 rebounds and 1 block per game. It has only been five games, but Rutgers needs a lot more from the big fella, and his production has regressed from last season. He took too many ill-advised jump shots against St. John's and has done little since. Lewis needs to be aggressive around the rim on both ends of the court. Tonight he must show up or Rutgers will get dominated in the paint.
Corey Sanders had been averaging 33 minutes a game entering Monday night before playing 16 minutes in the first half against Creighton. It was his best half so far in a Rutgers uniform, as he posted 16 points on 5-6 shooting and added 3 assists. But then the second half came, and Sanders got tired and a bit reckless, shooting just 2-8 from the field with just 1 assist. The rest of the team followed, forcing bad shots and not making the extra pass, or many passes at all for that matter. Sanders has a ton of responsibility and has lived up to expectations, but he needs to maintain his own focus to ensure the rest of the team plays within the offense.
Mike Williams struggled from the field and was not his usual scrappy self, showing signs of fatigue. Tying into the need for bench production, role players need to step up tonight. Rutgers can't rely on these two to play 30+ minutes a game during such a condensed stretch of games as they have, along with Deshawn Freeman, the past three games. While Bishop Daniels has scored off the bench, his inability to run the offense has been a problem, forcing Eddie to play Sanders more than he should. It has to be a solid team effort tonight for Rutgers to win, not just the core four of Sanders, Williams, Freeman and D.J. Foreman.
The second half against Creighton was a brutal defensive showing by Rutgers. Creighton was open for numerous three-point shots and were given plenty of space to operate in the paint. It was a recipe for disaster and the main reason they lost the game. It was partly a product of being tired from playing three games in five days, but they still can't let that happen. Clemson shoots from long range almost as much as Creighton, and has multiple scorers in the frontcourt. Clemson started off cold against UMass, fell behind by more than 20 points and never recovered. Rutgers must come out focused on the defensive end early and stay out of foul trouble. They must face guard and eliminate the extra space they have been allowing their opponent. When Eddie shifts to the 2-3 zone, they must rotate and jump out at the player in their area. Their footwork and urgency on defense needs to improve in a big way.
Everything discussed above involves a key factor tonight, how hungry is this team for a win this game? They fell apart against St. John's and responded with an uneven performance against Central Arkansas, though pulling it out in the last minute. Rutgers played great for a half against Creighton, then essentially no showed in the second half on both ends of the floor. Playing their fourth game since last Thursday, tonight will tell us a lot about this team. They will need a gutty performance and total team effort to win against this lower tier ACC squad. For what it is worth, Clemson is rated 54th in the current Pomeroy rankings, despite being picked 12th in the ACC preseason poll. Rutgers beat this team last season and a win tonight would be their first quality win of the season. With four days off ahead before facing an upstart Wake Forest team and blood rival Seton Hall next week, a win tonight would do wonders for this young team. Clemson showed little fight once they fell behind UMass on Monday, so Rutgers needs to take it to them and not relent until they walk off the court the victor.