This season is about progress and building the foundation for future success under first year head coach Steve Pikiell. You may be annoyed about me repeating this a lot, but it’s so important in measuring the results of this season. As we’ve seen in conference play, Rutgers still has a long way to go against the elite teams of the Big Ten. Michigan State proved that again tonight, as they looked like a team starting to gel and figure things out, beating Rutgers 93-65 . However, the Scarlet Knights came out with a good energy and purpose on offense, making it clear from the opening tip they were ready to play hard and smart against the Spartans.
There were some positive steps made tonight, but there is still plenty for them to improve on as well. While a 28 point loss might not feel like progress, if Rutgers can maintain this type of effort on the road, they will steal a couple away from the RAC this season. The talent gap between these two opponents was just too wide. It won't be like that in every game and Rutgers needs to keep working.
Biggest Moments of the 1st Half
Rutgers scored on their first three possessions of the game, triggering the fast start they needed on the road. Corey Sanders took control right from the opening tip, driving and scoring on back to back layups. After a Michigan State miss, Nigel Johnson hit a 12 foot jumper in transition to give Rutgers a much needed fast start and leading 6-0.
Trailing Rutgers 13-9, Michigan State put on a clinic with their halfcourt offense and took the lead with an 11-2 run to lead 20-15 at the under-12 timeout. They started the game shooting 3 of 7 from three-point range.
After Issa Thiam pulled off a great steal and finished with a dunk in the open court, Michigan State went 7 of 7 from the free throw line to push the lead to 27-17. Still, it was great to see Issa step up and make this play after a recent quiet streak.
With Rutgers down 30-19, Corey Sanders made a steal on the Michigan State inbounds play and finished with the and-1, making his free thrown and sparking a 7-4 run to keep the lead under 10 with less than 5 minutes to play in the half. He gave Rutgers points when the game was close to getting out of hand and helped them close the half down 42-32.
Biggest Moments of the 2nd Half
Rutgers came out after the break and continued to play together on offense, scoring 10 points by the under-16 timeout. The problem was that Michigan State was playing even better on offense and actually extended their lead to 54-42. That was a sign this game would likely get out of hand on the scoreboard. Michigan State just had too much firepower for Rutgers to contain them.
After another three-pointer by Michigan State, they were 8 of 15 from deep and extended the lead to 63-43 with just over 12 minutes to play in the game.
Rutgers didn’t quit and went on 13-5 run spurred by three-pointers from Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson, as well as a three-point play from CJ Gettys. It was good to see them not back down from a ferocious Spartan run and put up a fight.
The Game Was Over When...
After another Sanders layup pulled Rutgers within 70-58 with 8 minutes left in the game, Michigan State turned on the turbo engines and blew Rutgers away with a 19-5 run that pushed their lead to 89-63.
What We Learned
While Rutgers has nowhere near close the amount of talent as the best teams in the Big Ten, they played hard and gave it their best shot on the road for the second straight conference game. If they can give a similar effort, tighten up on defense and continue to take steps forward on offense like they did tonight, better results will follow against lesser competition.
If they had played with the same intensity tonight at home against Penn State, they would have won the game. That is what made that loss so disappointing. However, credit the coaching staff and players for turning the page and bringing a solid game plan and energy into this game.
Yes, the defense was not good tonight and Michigan State shot a ridiculous 57% from the field on the night. There were way too many alley oop dunks surrendered in the frontcourt and the perimeter defense was not good. It was a setback on that side of the ball, but it’s also important to remember how talented the Spartans frontcourt are, as freshman Miles Bridges and Nick Ward dominated up front.
It was positive to see players like Corey Sanders, Nigel Johnson and CJ Gettys respond on the offensive end. Rutgers needed better efforts from a few others though, as they were the only players to score in double figures.
On the flip side, Deshawn Freeman continues to struggle in Big Ten play, finishing with just 7 points and 3 rebounds. Mike Williams was also a non-factor, scoring just 2 points on 1 of 4 from the field and didn’t register an assist or rebound.
Players Of The Game
Michigan State - Eron Harris
The senior guard was 6 of 11 from three-point range in two games against Rutgers last season and continued torching the Scarlet Knights, making 5 of 8 tonight. He finished with a game high 24 points in just 19 minutes of action. He also added 4 assists and didn’t commit a turnover.
Rutgers - Corey Sanders
It was great to see him respond after two consecutive bad games with his best performance of the season. He was aggressive in looking to attack the rim and in finding open looks from the perimeter, where went 2 of 3 from three-point range after entering the game 3 of 21 for the season. He was under control and operated within the offense. He scored a season high 22 points on 9 of 16 shooting from the field. While he added 5 rebounds, he was held without an assist and committed 3 turnovers. Regardless, he flashed some swagger for the first time in awhile, something that was a nightly occurrence last season. He is still learning how to get looks and be effective in coach Pikiell’s system. Tonight was a nice step forward for him.
Rutgers did a good job on the offensive glass, holding a 15-7 edge over Michigan State. The issue was they couldn’t take advantage finishing near the rim after the board, scoring just 15 second chance points, just 1 better than the Spartans. This was an area Rutgers needed to dominate to have a chance, but at least they held their own with rebounding, finishing the night with 34 total, the same number as Michigan State.
Rutgers actually outscored the Spartans 16-12 on fast break points, but committed 14 turnovers. That led to Michigan State holding a 19-13 edge in points off turnovers, which was something Rutgers couldn’t afford to do in giving easy points away.
Michigan State once again dominated Rutgers from three-point range, making 11 of 22 for 50%. It was their third consecutive game against the Scarlet Knights that they made at least half of their 20+ attempts from behind the arc. Rutgers did a good job of not forcing attempts on offense and finished with a decent 3 of 8 from deep.
If Rutgers ever wants to win a Big Ten game on the road, they need to make free throws. Tonight they shot an abysmal 12 of 27 for just 44%. That certainly contributed to the final score being so lopsided.
Rutgers will fly home and after a couple days will be back on the move, taking on Iowa in Iowa City on Sunday afternoon. Call me crazy, but I’ve felt for awhile this is a road game Rutgers could win IF they play close to their maximum potential. After tonight’s loss, the program is now 0-20 all-time in Big Ten regular season road games. Rutgers need to breakthrough at some point and if they continue to play with the type of effort they’ve displayed against Wisconsin and Michigan State, the drought will end soon enough. They will steal a couple games on the road from non-elite teams in the conference who underestimate them.
As for tonight, they need to continue to work hard in practice and listen to the coaching staff, who continue to demonstrate that they have this team moving in the right direction. The Iowa game will mark their fifth out of their last sixth game to be played away from the RAC. Hopefully, they can rebound with their best road effort of the season so far. After a disappointing loss on Sunday to Penn State, it was positive to see Rutgers ready to play as soon as the game started. The final score won’t help change perception around the Big Ten that Rutgers is any better this season, but I believe their are positive signs proving that progress is being made. Remember, this program is undergoing a massive rebuild and the big picture view is needed. Let’s hope for a better showing Sunday against the Hawkeyes.