You can’t say I didn’t warn you. I had a sinking feeling tonight’s game against Stony Brook would be a struggle for Rutgers and it was a nail biter the entire night. After the biggest win in years for the program last Saturday against then #15 Seton Hall, followed by final exams this week, it just seemed like it would be a difficult challenge the Friday night before Christmas and the students away for the holiday. In fact, Steve Pikiell’s former team gave the Scarlet Knights a bare knuckle battle and it was an ugly game on both sides. After it looked like Rutgers would survive, leading by five points with 15 seconds to play in regulation, Stony Brook’s Jaron Cornish stole the inbounds pass and hit a three-pointer with three seconds to play to force overtime. Unfortunately, Rutgers ended up suffering a heartbreaking defeat, as Jakub Petras hit the game winning jumper as the buzzer sounded in the extra session. 0.2 seconds was added to the clock, but it didn’t matter and the Scarlet Knights suffered a brual loss at the hands of Stony Brook.
Rutgers was down 9-7 after five plus minutes into the game before Deshawn Freeman sparked a 10-0 run with his first three-pointer of the season at the top of the arc. Corey Sanders made a pretty basket in transition and then fed Mike Williams for another quick score. At the same time, Rutgers tightened up on defense and forced Stony Brook into a terrible shooting slump. The Seawolves scored just two points in almost seven minutes of action. The Scarlet Knights built a 19-11 lead and looked like they were about to gain even more control in this game, before going completely cold from the field as well.
Play on both sides got very sloppy, as Stony Brook and Rutgers both continued to struggle mightily shooting wise and with turnovers. Still, the Scarlet Knights were holding a comfortable 23-15 lead with 2:45 left in the half. However, Rutgers missed their last six shots in the opening frame and Stony Brook went into the locker room on a 7-0 run, trailing by just one point, 23-22. Both teams committed a bunch of turnovers (SB - 9, RU - 8) and shot poorly in the half, with Stony Brook making just 28% from the field, while Rutgers made just 34%. The Seawolves made just 2 of 14 three-point attempts, while the Scarlet Knights finished the half on a brutal 3 of 17 stretch from the floor and were just 2 of 6 from the free throw line. Perhaps most disturbingly, the top rebounding team in the country was -1 at the half against Stony Brook.
The good news is that Rutgers came out of the break with Issa Thiam hitting a much needed three-pointer to start the second half. However, it was a back and forth slog on both sides, but after an Issa putback, Rutgers led 32-30 at the under-16 timeout in the second half. The Seawolves would tied it soon after before Mike Williams attacked the rim and was fouled on the drive. The 79% free throw shooter made just 1 of 2, giving Rutgers a 33-32 lead with 12 plus minutes to play. It was that kind of night and when UC Iroegbu made a three-pointer, Stony Brook had its first lead since the early part of the opening frame.
The most reliable scorer of the night for Rutgers, senior captain Deshawn Freeman, took matters into his own hands and made his second three-pointer of both the game and the season, taking back the lead by 1. However, Issa Thiam committed a foul on a three-point shot and Yeboah made two of three to regain the lead. Fortunately, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Geo Baker, finally asserted himself in this game. He made a monster three-pointer and after Eugene Omoruyi took a charge on the defensive end, Baker made another basket, forcing Stony Brook to call a timeout trailing 41-37 midway through the second half.
Out of the timeout, Stony Brook responded with a 6-0 run and led by two before Corey Sanders made a crucial jumper to tie the game with 8 minutes to play. It was Shaq Doorson of all people who broke the tie, scoring his first basket of the game on a thunderous dunk and completed a three-point play the old fashioned way, making the free throw.
After a Stony Brook basket, Issa Thiam hit his second three-pointer of the game. However, the Seawolves’ UC Iroegbu scored three points over two possessions and cut the lead to 49-48 with about five minutes left in the game.
Things changed for the better when Geo Baker made his second three-pointer of the game and then came up with a steal and found Freeman in transition for a slam dunk, forcing a Stony Brook timeout. Rutgers led 54-48 with 4:25 to play. Despite Rutgers making 4 of 5 shots from the floor, Steve Pikiell’s former team refused to go away and trailed by just 1 point with 2:45 to play in the game. However, Baker came up big again, making a layup, but on the next possession, Freeman made just 1 of 2 from the free throw line. Stony Brook answered before Baker once again stepped up down the stretch, making both attempts from the charity stripe, giving Rutgers a 61-57 lead with 1:17 left in the game.
After Stony Brook cut the lead to two, Deshawn Freeman made a huge basket off the glass to give Rutgers a four point lead. Baker was then fouled off of a miss on the other end and made just one of two free throw attempts. However, Rutgers led 64-59 with 15 seconds to play before Stony Brook made an improbable 5-0 run to send the game into overtime of off Cornish's steal and stepback three.
Enter Mike Williams, who was one point shy of 1,000 points for his career entering the extra session. With the game tied in overtime, he achieved that milestone with a big basket. After Yeboah hit a three-pointer, Williams answered with his own three behind the arc, his first of the game to give Rutgers a two point lead with 1:30 to play in OT. However, Yeboah continued to dominate and made back to back baskets, as Pikiell called a timeout with 41 seconds to play in overtime and Rutgers trailing 73-71. Thankfully, Geo Baker made a huge jumper to tie the game with 25 seconds to play. Petras, who had 2 points up to this point, made the final dagger to sink Rutgers, a jumper from the top of the key..
Deshawn Freeman played tremendously on the offensive end and honestly, didn’t get enough touches in this game. He made 8 of 11 shots for 20 points and added 6 rebounds. Geo Baker scored 15 huge points, all coming midway through the second half and beyond, but his missed free throw in the closing seconds of regulation will haunt him. He also had 6 assists and 3 rebounds. Issa Thiam scored 12 points and had 6 rebounds. Mike Williams had a bittersweet night, finishing with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals, in addition to eclipsing 1,000 points in his career, but will have a hard time celebrating after this loss. Corey Sanders had an off night offensively, scoring just 8 points on 4 of 14 shooting, but did add 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
As a team, Rutgers got beat at its own game. Stony Brook held a +7 edge on the boards, +8 on the offensive glass, +8 on second chance points and +10 on points in the paint. Both teams turned it over, with Rutgers committing 14 compared to 16 for the Seawolves. Rutgers shot 44.6% in the game, while Stony Brook shot 37.3%, but it didn’t matter. However, making just 8 of 19 from the free throw line killed Rutgers in this game.
The Scarlet Knights looked stuck in second gear all night and just didn’t have that extra hop in their step in this game. Rutgers was not aggressive and failed to attack the rim nearly enough. It was a predictable letdown in which you hoped they would find a way, but the loss is a harsh reminder that this team is very much still a work in progress midway through Steve Pikiell’s second season. The fact that it came against his former team that refused to quit, made it that much harder to swallow. The small ball lineup that worked so well down the stretch against Seton Hall could not produce the same heroics tonight.
Rutgers (10-4) now has another six day break until its next game, it’s last non-conference matchup of the season. They’ll face Hartford, a team they barely beat at the RAC last season, when CJ Gettys won the game on a putback off of an offensive rebound. The loss tonight is just one game and this team needs to show resolve and character by bouncing back in a big way next Thursday. This game proves that anything can happen on any given night in college basketball. It was also the first game that Rutgers suffered an upset loss since Steve Pikiell took over the program. Rutgers will learn from this defeat and hopefully it will serve them well during Big Ten play, which resumes on January 3rd at Purdue. For now, the Scarlet Knights will reside in the Heartbreak Hotel over the Christmas holiday.