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Rutgers Falls Short Against Michigan 68-57

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It was their second straight game of playing a top tier Big Ten tough, but it wasn't enough on the road.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers came out with some moxie on the road tonight, taking a 6-0 lead after Corey Sanders had a steal and scored 4 points at the opening. Michigan started slow, as they were getting open looks right away, but were missing them for most of the first half. Rutgers spread the floor on offense and attacked the rim from the start. Michigan played a 1-3-1 defense and Rutgers played much better against that defensive look in the first ten minutes of the half than they had all season.  They shared the basketball and got near the rim, but struggled to finish at times.

However, Omari Grier made a great drive, making the layup and drawing the foul, finishing the three-point play to give Rutgers a 16-12 lead with 8:43 left in the opening frame. Michigan started 2-12 from three-point range and was 5-20 from the field at this point in the game. Rutgers started 7-15 but continued to struggle from long range, shooting just 1-6 from three-point range.

Unfortunately, they simply could not take advantage of Michigan's slow start and failed to get out in front by a large enough of a lead. After being up 20-17, Michigan went on 12-0 run during which Rutgers committed four turnovers, six fouls and two missed shots in that 5 minute stretch. Michigan played a trapping zone at times and forced Rutgers into sloppy play with the basketball. They went into the half with 9 turnovers and trailing Michigan by the score of 34-27.

Rutgers started the second half on offense with Greg Lewis drawing an offensive foul and Bishop Daniels shooting a contested 18 foot jump shot early in the shot clock.  Two terrible offensive possessions to start the half against Michigan's man to man defense. Michigan promptly drained a three and the rout was on. Or was it?

After Lewis made a layup and a free throw on consecutive possessions, Williams missed a three right after crossing mid-court and the next possession Sanders missed a contested three.  That put Rutgers down 40-30 at the under 16 minute timeout.  At that point, they were shooting a solid 11-24 from the field but a miserable 2-10 from three-point range.  When will this team learn to stop forcing long range, contested jump shots? They followed that by Williams missing another three and Daniels missing another contested 18 footer, when Sanders finally drove to the rim and made a tough floater in the lane to cut the lead to 8 points.

Despite terrible shot selection for the first ten minutes of the second half, Rutgers continued to hang around. Mike Williams and Corey Sanders were the main reason why, as they kept attacking on both ends of the floor.  And then this happened....

That steal and dunk by Sanders cut Michigan's lead to 46-41 with 11 minutes left in the game.  I can safely say without research that this was the closest Rutgers has come to a Big Ten opponent that late in the game since the opener against Indiana. The two guards combined for 20 of Rutgers last 27 points in the game. Ultimately, it was not enough and Michigan won 68-57, making several free throws in the final minute.

Michigan averages 10.8 three's a game and despite struggling early on, finished 11-28 for 39.3% from long range. Rutgers was fortunate that Michigan had an off shooting night, as they afforded them far too many open looks in this game. It could have been much worse. With Michigan's leading scorer Caris LaVert missing this game, their next two top scorers, Duncan Robinson and Derrick Walton Jr., led the way.  Robinson led all scorers in the game with 18 points, including 4-9 from three, and 4 rebounds and 2 assists.  Walton Jr. had 14 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds.  For the game, Michigan only shot 40.8% from the field, but were an impressive 17-20 from the free throw line.

Rutgers shot a better percentage from the field than their opponent for the second game in a row, but it wasn't enough.  As a team, they shot 22-50 from the field for 44%.  However, it was the same story from long range as it has been all season, as Rutgers shot a horrific 3-18 (16.7%) from three-point range.  Even Omari Grier, Rutgers best deep threat at 43% for the season, struggled from behind the arc with a 1-4 performance. Sanders and Williams couldn't get the ball to drop and forced way too many long range shots, finishing a combined 2-11 from three-point range.

However, Sanders and Williams were easily the best two players in scarlet tonight.  This was Sanders most complete game of his Rutgers career, finishing with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals.  He played at another level tonight and is showing signs of major growth.  Williams led Rutgers with 17 points for the second straight game and posted 4 rebounds.  Despite the duo's rough night from behind the arc, they combined to shoot 9-14 from the field otherwise.  With more discipline from long range, these two will elevate their games even more.

Rutgers played together tonight and showed fight on both ends of the floor. They actually outrebounded Michigan 30-29 and never stopped competing against the bigger opponent.  All five starters had four or more rebounds and they were active in the paint on defense.  The difference in the game was a recurring theme, their  continued inability to defend the three, while failing to knock them down on offense.  The conference losing streak continues at 23 games, and Rutgers remains winless on the road in their Big Ten history.  After two spirited and encouraging games against Iowa and Michigan, they now have to regroup before heading into East Lansing to take on perennial Big Ten power Michigan State.