The Rutgers men's basketball team had a nightmare beginning to their Thanksgiving. They trailed Clemson the entire game and were dominated in the paint, ultimately losing 76-58. In addition, freshman point guard Corey Sanders left the game with a toe injury (Update: Jerry Carino updated that it was not an ankle injury as initally reported by news outlets) in the final minute of the first half and did not return the rest of the game. Without their floor general, Rutgers limped through the second half and put forth their worst performance of the young season.
The possibility of Sanders missing time is a doomsday scenario for Eddie Jordan and the entire program. For now we can only hope that it was a minor setback and Sanders was held out for precautionary reasons. If it was a significant toe injury, he could miss weeks. There was no word on the extent of the injury after the game.
On the court, Rutgers was dominated by Clemson's frontcourt, with Jaron Blossomgame and Donte Grantham leading the way with 22 points a piece. They combined to make 16 of 24 shots from the field and 10 of 11 free throw attempts. The duo also combined for 15 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Center Landry Nnoko added 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block. Overall, Clemson shot 51% from the field, won the rebounding margin by +11 and completely dominated Rutgers in every category. Clemson opened the game on a 11-4 run and never looked back.
Deshawn Freeman led Rutgers in scoring with 13 points and D.J. Foreman backed him up with 11 points. Unfortunately, they were the only players to score in double figures and combined for only 4 rebounds. Greg Lewis and Ibrahima Diallo finally contributed on the offensive end, each netting 6 points on 6-7 shooting combined. While Diallo pulled down 6 boards, Lewis failed to register a rebound. The frontcourt scoring was better tonight but Rutgers is not likely to be competitive when Freeman, Foreman, Lewis and Diallo combine for just 10 rebounds. On the defensive end, they were dominated by the Clemson big men. Eddie Jordan tried playing a matchup zone to slow down Blossomgame and Grantham, but it was not effective. This performance does not bode well for the Rutgers frontcourt, as the upcoming Big Ten schedule begins five weeks from now and they will face similarly talented big men on a regular basis.
While Rutgers shot 47% from the field as a team, Mike Williams struggled for the second consecutive game. He connected on just 1 of 8 shots from the field, including just 1-5 from the three-point range. In the two games in Vegas, Williams shot 4 of 18 from the field and 2 of 10 from behind the arc. He came into this road trip as Rutgers leading scorer, but failed to reach double figures in either game, averaging just 6.5 points. He needs to be a consistent force on the offensive end for Rutgers to maintain scoring balance and to be competitive.
Bishop Daniels didn't have a good game tonight either, shooting just 4 of 12 from the field for 8 points. Forced to run the offense with Sanders out of the game in the second half, Daniels struggled and had 4 turnovers. He is so much better off the ball and goes into a shell when playing the point, something we saw in the opening game against Rutgers-Newark with Sanders out due to a summer league infraction. The offense becomes stagnant and predictable. Clemson was aggressive in the passing lanes and Rutgers looked hesitant rather than attacking their defense. Williams is much better off the ball as well, but may need to handle the ball more depending on how long Sanders is out.
This team has shown flashes and the talent base has improved, but they are still a long way off from being a good team. If Sanders is out an extended period of time, it would be a major blow for both his development and for the team. I said before the season he was the most indispensable player on the roster and Rutgers could not afford to lose him. If Sanders does miss time and with big man Shaq Doorson out indefinitely, Rutgers would only have 9 active scholarship players. It also forces Daniels to play out of position and changes the dynamic of the Rutgers offense. In addition, Jonathan Laurent was held out last night after suffering an injury Monday night, no details as of yet. So if he misses significant time, Rutgers could be suiting up with just 8 scholarship players. Hopefully the next four days off helps.
Four of their next five games are against Wake Forest, Seton Hall, George Washington and Monmouth. Those teams have beaten the likes of Indiana, Virginia and UCLA. Rutgers is still searching for their first quality win of the season and the prospect of Sanders missing time is a nightmare for the program. Rutgers returns home to four days off before Monday's game against Danny Manning's upstart Demon Deacons. For now, we can only hope Sanders recovers quickly and this team gets some much needed rest. It's imperative they put this trip behind them and move forward. As the saying goes, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."