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Northwestern Wears Down Rutgers in 69-60 Loss

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NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

This was another winnable game at the RAC that saw Rutgers falter down the stretch due to a lack of shooters on the roster. Everyone went quiet for stretches in the second half and Northwestern wore Rutgers down on the boards, something that was a bit unexpected. While Rutgers came out ready to play and held Northwestern to just 3 points in the first 7 minutes of the game, they failed to take advantage on offense yet again. They couldn’t hold their 3 point lead from halftime and Northwestern controlled the entire second frame. Rutgers never quit and kept the score respectable, but this game was sadly over well before the final buzzer sounded. The Wildcats won 69-60 and outscored Rutgers 44-32 in the second half.

Biggest Moments of the 1st Half

Rutgers opened the game with great defense and set the tone right away. While their offense was a struggle all night, after a Corey Sanders made jumper, Rutgers led 11-3 with a little more than 7 minutes into the game.

With Rutgers leading 17-15 and just under 8 minutes left in the half, Rutgers gained separation with a 7-2 run sparked by a three-point play by Corey Sanders. They led 24-17 with just over 5 minutes left in the half. However, they couldn’t hold on and limped into the break. They let Northwestern back into the game and led by only 3 points at the half.

Biggest Moments of the 2nd Half

Northwestern came out of the break ready to go and went on a 19-9 run in the first 8 minutes of the second half to lead 44-37. They were breaking down the Rutgers defense in the halfcourt and the Scarlet Knights went 4+ minutes without scoring in the middle of this run, missing 7 straight shots.

The Game Was Over When...

After Eugene Omoruyi made a layup and cut the Northwestern lead to 46-43 with 7:32 left in the game, Candido Sa fouled Vic Law behind the arc. Law made all three free throws, which sparked a 9-1 run that put the game away, as the Wildcats led 55-44 with just under 5 minutes remaining in the game.

What We Learned

Rutgers has no offense when Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson can’t score. They led Rutgers in the first half in scoring with 9 points and 6 points respectively. However, both guards struggled mightily from the floor and didn’t score for the majority of the second half. Sanders finished with 16 points, but had 5 points late with the outcome already decided. He shot 7 of 17 from the floor and just 4 of 8 from the free throw line. Johnson was cold as ice from the floor, shooting just 2 of 14 from the field, including 0 of 5 from three-point range.

The lack of shooters is a glaring problem for Rutgers, compounded by the fact that Issa Thiam and Mike Williams have done almost nothing the past three games. Both have battled from being pretty sick the past two plus weeks and their production is sorely missed, especially Williams. They are the best threats from three-point range on a team that is terrible from deep and has become even worse during their recent drought. Williams played better towards the end of the game and finished with 5 points and 4 rebounds, but was 0 of 3 from deep. Issa didn’t score in the game. They desperately need to get both players back into some type of rhythm.

Aside from Deshawn Freeman, there are no other reliable scorers in the low post. While CJ Gettys, Candido Sa, and Ibrahima Diallo showed some positive signs in this game for flashes, they only combined for 10 points. Rutgers needs a second frontcourt player to give consistent scoring production in the paint, especially now that teams will look to shut down Freeman after his strong play the past two games.

This team is playing hard and was doing a good job in the first half running the offense. However, they fall into bad stretches and become unhinged too easily at times. They struggled to minimize the damage during several scoring droughts. When shots weren’t falling, Rutgers started to break down on the defensive end, especially in the second half.

This game was lost in the last 5 minutes of the first half and the first 5 minutes of the second half. Northwestern outscored Rutgers 18-10 during those 10 minutes and assumed control of the game, which they never relinquished.

Players Of The Game

Northwestern - Vic Law

He led all scorers with 23 points and shot 50% from the field, as well as a perfect 9 of 9 from the charity stripe. His three in a row after getting fouled by Sa behind the arc is what started the defining run of the game for the Wildcats. He added 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Rutgers - Deshawn Freeman

Deshawn Freeman has found his groove the past two games and it’s been great to see. After averaging just 7 points and 3 rebounds in the first three Big Ten contests, Freeman followed up his 19 point, 13 rebound, 5 steal game against Iowa with a 12 point, 15 rebound, 2 steal game tonight. He started strong and grabbed 8 boards in the first 8 minutes of the game, but took a beating and left the game late in the second half holding his left side. However, he did return and looked okay. Rutgers desperately needs him healthy and to keep building off these past two games.

Key Stats

While Rutgers was dominating the glass early, they got owned by Northwestern on the boards with about 5 minutes left in the first half through the final whistle of the game. They lost the rebounding battle 49-41, which is very disappointing against an average team on the glass, who grabbed a dozen more than their per game average.

Rutgers did a great job against Northwestern in holding them to just 39% shooting and what has to be near a season worst 3 of 20 from three-point range. However, the Scarlet Knights were even worse on offense and shot only 32% from the field and an awful 1 of 12 from three-point range. You can’t win shooting that poorly, no matter who you play.

The free throw line was again an issue, as Rutgers started 4 of 9 and finished 15 of 23 for just 65%. On the other hand, Northwestern was clutch all night and made 18 of 20 in the game.

You wouldn’t think it from the final score, but Rutgers only committed 9 turnovers and Northwestern turned it over 13 times, 3 more than their season average.

While Rutgers had a solid number of blocks with 8, Northwestern blocked 15 shots. FIFTEEN! The big men of Rutgers simply do not attack the rim with any force at all and a perfect example is the 7 foot Shaq Doorson getting blocked on at least two occasions.

What’s Next

Rutgers heads back out on the road for a Sunday matinee against the Indiana Hoosiers, a true Jekyll and Hyde team. Although they’ve beaten Kansas and North Carolina, they have also lost to Fort Wayne and are just 1-3 in Big Ten play. However, this will be an extremely difficult road game for Rutgers, as Indiana is loaded with talent.

It’s been a major grind for Rutgers, who have shown great effort and haven’t quit, but the difference in talent versus their conference opponents is significant. It’s apparent this team has made progress despite the losses, especially compared to last season, but expectations should remain low for now. The first six games of Big Ten play is the most difficult in my opinion for the entire conference slate, so if they can weather this storm, they come home for 5 days and get ready for Nebraska, who visits the RAC on January 21st. This team needs to keep their heads up and continue to work. There should be no doubt that will be the case with Steve Pikiell on the job.

Box Score

Dave’s 4 Thoughts