Rutgers brought the fight to Florida State and played well at times on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t enough against a deeper and more talented opponent, falling 78-73 in front of a spirited crowd at the RAC. The Scarlet Knights came out playing fundamentally sound man to man defense and were locked in from the opening tip. Florida State struggled shooting the basketball early on, making just 3 of its first 14 shots from the field, including 0 of 6 from three-point range. However, Rutgers was sloppy on the offensive end and was forcing the action too much, as several players were out of control at times. It was the play of senior captain Deshawn Freeman that kept things moving forward and he set the tone immediately with this emphatic slam dunk off of an offensive rebound.
The #B1GACC Challenge is back underway at the RAC, as @RutgersMBB starts things off with a slam against the Seminoles.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 29, 2017
Five @B1GMBBall teams will be in action tonight against the ACC. pic.twitter.com/rqjrl3ksBD
It was a two point lead for Rutgers at 17-15, midway through the first half, when the Florida State offense started to get going. FSU’s Phil Cofer hit two quick three’s and Rutgers got into major foul trouble, as the refs were calling the action extremely tight. The Seminoles were in the bonus early on and made 7 of its first 8 shots from the line, as Rutgers had four players with 2 fouls at the under-8 timeout (Shaq Doorson, Mamadou Doucoure, Geo Baker, Mike Williams). FSU made six straight field goals, but Rutgers held strong and were able to stay in the game, heading to the locker room trailing by just 1 point, 36-35.
Florida State built a 41-37 lead at the under-16 timeout after the break, but Rutgers responded with a 7-0 run to take a three point lead with 13 plus minutes to play. The Seminoles leading scorer, Terance Mann, headed to the bench with four fouls and Rutgers was already in the bonus, having made an impressive 11 of 12 attempts from the line up that point. All the momentum was seemingly on the side of the Scarlet Knights and then disaster struck.
Deshawn Freeman, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds up to that point, fell to the ground and was carried off the floor, unable to put pressure on his left leg. Rutgers looked shell shocked, missing five shots in a row and they turned it over on back to back possessions, as Florida State went on a 11-0 run in the blink of an eye (technically 50 seconds) to take a 53-45 lead. Head coach Steve Pikiell called a timeout with 12:19 to play.
It was a timely break in the action and helped in a big way, as Eugene Omoruyi stepped up in Freeman’s absence, scoring three baskets in a row. Freeman was given treatment and surprisingly checked back into the game soon after, although he was unable to have the same impact the rest of the way.
A huge three-pointer by Issa Thiam in the corner cut the lead to 57-54, as Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton called a timeout and the RAC went nuts. Unfortunately, Phil Cofer of Florida State continued to be a thorn in the side of Rutgers and finished with 19 points, making 4 of 5 three-point attempts. Rutgers was able to cut the lead to 64-61 with just over four minutes to play, but CJ Walker completed a three-point play and he carried the Seminoles down the stretch. Rutgers continued to battle and cut the lead to three points with under three minutes to play, but they couldn’t get any closer than that. Walker finished with a game high 24 points and made 10 of 11 free throw attempts, many of them coming in the final minutes.
Positives in this game are that Rutgers handled the press and 2-3 zone of Florida State relatively well, they played extremely hard and didn’t back down at all. As a team, it was easily the best performance from the free throw line, making 16 of 20 for 80%, a sign of how focused they were tonight. The defense was very good at times, limiting Florida State in transition scoring and holding the Seminole’s 13 points below their season average and its leading scorer, Terance Mann, to a season low 7 points, 10 below his average. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to pull the upset. Florida State held a 16-7 edge in points off of turnovers and a 10-0 edge in fast break points. Rutgers did hold +5 rebounding edge, as well as a 18-4 edge in second chance points, but tied a season worst with committing 14 turnovers, 5 more than the Seminoles.
For the game, Florida State shot 44% from the field and 6 of 16 from behind the arc. Rutgers made 41% of its shots from the floor and was 5 of 17 from three-point range.
Eugene Omoruyi was extremely impressive in the second half and kept Rutgers within striking distance once Freeman went down. Omoruyi finished with a team high 22 points on 9 of 11 shooting, as he was able to drive at will and get to the rim, where he finished the best he has in any game so far in his Rutgers career. He added 5 rebounds. Freeman was unable to do much once he returned, as it turned out he was battling cramps in his legs, but finished with 15 points, 16 rebounds. He was just 5 of 18 from the floor. Still, he left his heart on the court and showed true senior leadership in the loss.
Corey Sanders finished with 20 points on 7 of 17 shooting, as well as 5 assists and 4 rebounds. The negatives were that he committed 4 turnovers and struggled defensively against Florida State’s CJ Walker down the stretch. He was without Geo Baker much of the game, who was in foul trouble all night and fouled out with 4+ minutes to play. It forced Sanders to handle the ball more than he intended to and it took Rutgers out of their comfort zone. It was probably the difference in this game.
Next up is the beginning of Big Ten play and the schedule only gets more difficult. Rutgers heads on the road for the first time all season to take on #12 Minnesota (7-0) on Sunday night. Two days later, Rutgers returns to the RAC to host #4 Michigan State (5-1) for the conference opener, who just beat #9 North Carolina by 18 points in their last game. It was a solid effort for the Scarlet Knights against Florida State, but a disappointing loss just the same. They’ll have four days to regroup and learn from this defeat. Hopefully, this game will make this team better and they can look back on this loss as a positive in the long run this season.