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Game Balls: Rutgers vs Cleveland State

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Rutgers pours it on in the second half to improve to 3-0 on the season.

NCAA Basketball: Big 10 Media Day Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The men were back in action at the RAC Tuesday night for their third game in five days. After a slow start, Rutgers turned it on in the second half to roll to a decisive win. Let’s hand out some game balls.

MVP: Corey Sanders

A strong case could be made for Thiam but I’m rolling with Sanders. Yes, he struggled shooting the ball this game but his impact on the team goes far beyond just scoring. The first thing that stands out in the stats is the ten rebounds, but it really doesn’t surprise me especially when you actually watch how hard Sanders hustles on each play. There’s so many things that he does besides scoring that don’t show up in the box score. On defense he’s constantly moving, fighting through screens, diving for loose balls. On offense, the addition of Geo Baker has allowed Corey to work off the ball and has taken the pressure off of him being the primary ball handler. Tonight was a great example of how important he is to this team other than just scoring. He finished with 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and my MVP game ball.

X-Factor: Issa Thiam

Thiam was 4-8 from three but most of that was a reflection of his production from the second half. It’s a good example of how much of an impact he can have when he gets into a rhythm. He’s a 6’10’’ guard who can shoot from outside which is a match up nightmare for many teams. That same size allows him to be a factor around the boards finishing with seven rebounds. He’s got to continue working to be more consistent from a shooting stand point but he’s only a sophomore and has time to improve. This season will be excellent experience for him and should only increase his confidence going forward. And although we’re still in the infancy of the season, I could see Thiam stepping up big by knocking down a last second shot come January when Rutgers gets into the heart of Big Ten play. Stay tuned.

Play of the Game: Corey Sanders to Geo Baker

There were several plays that could have won this award (see below) but there was one play that seemed to spark the team after half time. Just three minutes into the second half, Sanders brought the ball over half court and crossed over from his left to right hand. In the blink of an eye he threw an absolute strike of a pass to hit Baker in stride. Baker went straight up and converted the scoring opportunity despite being fouled. He would go on to miss the free throw but the play seemed to instill some confidence in not only Baker but the team as a whole. The chemistry between the two guards is undeniable and something that should only increase with the rotation of Williams and Thiam in the back court.

Frosh of the Night: Geo Baker

Baker doesn’t get enough credit for his passing and how well he moves with and without the ball. With about six minutes left in the first half Baker received a pass just beyond the three point line from Williams. He pump faked a pass left to Corey Sanders on the wing, drove to the basket and dumped off the ball to Mamadou Doucoure for an easy bucket. Baker followed up in the second half with a beautiful alley-oop to Sanders and an excellent hustle play where he was able to save an errant ball destined to land in the first few rows of seats. Somehow he was able to find Eugene Omoruyi who immediately attacked the rim for a layup. He would finish the game with seven assists and zero turnovers, exactly the type of ball security Coach Pikiell is looking for.

For our game recap, click here. For four more thoughts on the action, click here.