There is no sugarcoating this loss, as Rutgers looked awful on the offensive end. While they lost intensity on defense at times, they still held Penn State to 36% shooting and just 60 points in the game. However, Rutgers shot just 29% from the field and finished with only 47 points in a very disappointing loss, their first at the RAC all season. This was a huge opportunity in front of a great home crowd and a Penn State team dealing with key players battling the flu. Unfortunately, Rutgers gave the fans very little to cheer about and trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half and never got within single digits after the break. The party to ring in the new year was anything but a celebration.
Both teams came in with health issues, as Penn starters Shep Garner and Mike Watkins came off the bench due to flu-like symptoms. Corey Sanders for Rutgers also came off the bench after spraining his ankle late in the loss to Wisconsin last Tuesday. However, all three players ended up being in the mix most of the game.
The issue for Rutgers was their inability to attack the rim and make shots. Instead of setting the tone from the start by establishing their offense in the paint with elite shot blocker Watkins not on the floor, Rutgers settled for too many jumpers and never got into rhythm. While Rutgers outscored Penn State 30-24 with points in the paint and 9-3 in second chance points, they didn’t dominate in those areas like they needed to.
Biggest Moments of the 1st Half
Rutgers held Penn State scoreless through 7+ minutes to start the game, which saw the Nittany Lions miss their first 10 shots from the field. Unfortunately, Rutgers also struggled on the offensive end and only led 9-5 at the under-12 timeout. Their failure to attack the rim early on and not build a more sizeable lead came back to bite them.
Down 12-9 after a Tony Carr offensive rebound and three-point play, Rutgers finally got going with a 7-0 run behind two Mike Williams baskets, including his second from behind the arc, giving Rutgers a 16-12 lead with 7:26 left in the first half.
Rutgers couldn’t take advantage though and Penn State went on a 13-4 run, taking control of the game. Candido Sa and Deshawn Freeman scored on consecutive possessions after posting up in the paint, but Rutgers then shot two deep jumpers to follow that and fell back out of rhythm. They held Penn State to 27% shooting from the field in the first half, but trailed 27-23 at the break. Rutgers held a 16-8 edge with points in the paint but still took too many jumpers and also committed 9 turnovers.
Biggest Moments of the 2nd Half
Rutgers trailed 33-29 four minutes into the second frame after two Corey Sanders made free throws, but Penn State caught fire and rolled off a 14-0 run to lead by 18 points at the under-12 timeout. Rutgers was in the middle of a 0-9 drought from the field and their defensive intensity was lacking. They were never able to recover enough to truly get back into the game.
Rutgers responded by holding Penn State to zero field goals for a seven plus minute stretch, but were unable to capitalize and still trailed 49-38 with just over 5 minutes remaining.
The Game Was Over When...
Down 52-40 with less than 4 minutes to play, Penn State guard Josh Reaves hit a jumper that ended any delusion of a miracle run from Rutgers.
What We Learned
CJ Gettys and Deshawn Freeman weren’t nearly involved in the offensive as much as they should have been. Freeman only took 4 shots in this game, which is too few against an opponent that isn’t loaded up front like most other Big Ten teams. He finished with just 4 points and 2 rebounds, production that is far below what this team needs in order to have a chance against conference opponents. Gettys was 3 of 7 from the field and delivered a solid 6 point, 8 rebound performance. Both should have been fed the ball more often on the blocks.
Rutgers is extremely challenged on the offensive end against better competition, but even more so when they rely on perimeter scoring. It’s hard to say how much the ankle affected Corey Sanders in this game, but he wasn’t able to find a flow on offense. He looked good on a drive and lay-in in the first half, but finished only 3-10 from the field and had just 1 assist. Fellow backcourt mate Nigel Johnson struggled as well, shooting just 1-8 from the field and dishing out just 2 assists. If they aren’t hitting their shots, both guards need to feed the paint more and get other perimeter players involved.
Penn State is an average defensive team, but Rutgers just missed way too many shots. Players like Eugene Omoruyi, Candido Sa, and Issa Thiam need to step up offensively if Rutgers is going to improve on that end of the floor. All three have shown flashes this season and have the most room to grow and impact this team. In this game, Sa was 2-5 from the field and finished with 5 points and 7 rebounds, but Issa and Omoruyi combined to shoot 0-8 from the field. They’re struggling to get into the flow of the offense, something I think Sanders and Johnson need to help with. However, no Rutgers player had a good shooting day.
Players Of The Game
Penn State - Tony Carr
He was the best player on the court in this game coming through with a complete performance on a day Shep Garner didn’t score while battling the flu. Carr finished with 15 points, including two three-pointers, as well as 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
Rutgers - Mike Williams
It wasn’t a great shooting night for Williams, as he was just 5 of 16 from the field and 3 of 10 from three-point range. However, he led Rutgers with 16 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double. He was the only player to make big shots in this game, but should have looked to attack the rim more than he did.
Rutgers failed to dominate on the glass against an average rebounding team in Penn State. They held a 43-42 edge and a 13-7 edge on the offensive glass, but Rutgers needed to hold wider margins on both ends.
After a couple respectable performances from behind the arc, Rutgers was miserable and finished 3-20 from three-point range. Nigel Johnson, Issa Thiam, and Candido Sa combined to shoot 0-8 from behind the arc. Their lack of a deep threat was a major concern entering this season and it remains a problem, as only Mike Williams is making shots from three-point range of late.
Rutgers committed 17 turnovers, which combined with a poor shooting night, spelled disaster on offense. It also allowed for Penn State to push the ball in transition more often, which played right into their strength.
Official attendance was announced at 6,079 for the game, the highest turnout of the season. The crowd stayed in the game late, despite Rutgers trailing by double digits most of the second half. It’s the type of crowd this team needs all season and hopefully fans remember this season is year one of the rebuild. It takes time and while today was a big disappointment, this team needs continued support this season.
Rutgers has a tough two game road trip ahead this week with games at Michigan State on Wednesday and Iowa next Sunday. They will need to regroup quickly and get ready for this stretch. Conference play is a grind and Rutgers is knee deep in it after two games.
While this team has a strong defensive identity and played reasonably well on that end of the floor, they have no identity on offense. The positive is this team has the most room to grow in that area, but some soul searching is needed for them to turn things around. There is no continuity or offensive chemistry right now.
Losing by double digits in front of by far the best home crowd in a long time and coming into the game as the favorite, there is no denying this is the first major disappointment of the season. How they respond in the next week will be crucial to the rest of the season, as the losses could snowball in a hurry. Pikiell has preached the need for more toughness from this team and it’s time for them to start showing it. Their defensive effort is solid, but without any semblance of a competent offense, they will struggle in Big Ten play.