The Rutgers men’s basketball team opened Big Ten play in Minneapolis Sunday against No. 12 Minnesota. The Scarlet Knights hung tough for most of the game behind the kind of gritty performance fans have become used to under Steve Pikiell, but ultimately were unable to keep up with the Gophers’ length and athleticism in an 89-67 loss.
“Credit to Minnesota, well-coached, talented, but we got to get some shots to fall,” Pikiell told WCTC’s Chris Carlin in a postgame radio interview. “I thought we had some decent looks. We lost our poise a few times, you saw our youth. Welcome to the Big Ten, playing one of the best teams on the road. Tough environment, we have to play better. If we give up 89 points (every game), it’s going to be a long year. That’s an awful defensive outing for us.”
In the end, not all player performances are the same. Below is an evaluation of each player’s night, along with a rating from 1-10, with increments of 0.5 points.
Statline: 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers
Rutgers’ first offensive play of the game was short-lived. Corey Sanders dribbled up the court and flicked a pass to Issa Thiam, only to see his pass fly over his teammates head as Thiam tripped on himself and fell to the ground.
That sequence pretty much summed up Sanders’ night as he could never really get anything going apart from a pair of quick baskets early in the second half. He missed six straight shots before draining his first bucket three minutes before halftime, turned the ball over four times and often had trouble staying in front of Minnesota’s Nate Mason on the defensive end. He was subbed out after he received a technical foul with eight minutes to go and never returned to the game.
Corey Sanders is due for a couple of big nights in conference play this season — Sunday was just not one of them.
Rating — 4.5
Statline: 12 points on 3-for-11 shooting, 3 assists, 1 rebound
The freshman guard started this game very positively, getting a block on the defensive end before opening the scoring for Rutgers with a midrange jumper. But while it looked like he shook off his struggles against Florida State, Baker eventually regressed to the same level of his midweek performance. The New Hampshire native missed eight straight shots after his opening bucket until he knocked in his first three-pointer with five minutes to go.
“He’s got to continue to play through some of these tough times,” Pikiell told Carlin. “Life on the road is not easy.”
He picked up three assists and should have had another had Deshawn Freeman knocked down a wide-open look off a well-executed pick-and-roll, but what the Scarlet Knights needed was his shooting. Pikiell reiterated he is content with the effort from his freshman, but eventually, the shots need to start falling.
Rating — 5
Statline: 8 points, 6 rebounds
Thiam did not start the game well, with his first move of the afternoon being the aformentioned self-trip that led to a Rutgers turnover. His night did not get much better from there.
His best moment was his first shot, one where he went up with no hesitation and drained it from the left corner for three. Often too hesitant with his shot, it was an encouraging sign. In fact, it may have been too encouraging, because two possessions later, Thiam chucked it up at the top of the key off a catch-and-shoot only to watch it bounce off the front iron. He shot just two more times from three for the rest, making one and missing the other.
Thiam’s physical development over the offseason is evident to anyone who watched him last season. That’s led to a more physical version of him in the paint, where he currently averages more rebounds (6 per game) than he ever got in a single game as a freshman. However, the area he is a specialist in — three-point shooting — still needs a lot of work.
Rating — 6
Statline: 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting, 12 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks
Deshawn Freeman picked up his third straight double-double of the season, but it left much to be desired. The Rutgers captain missed multiple chip shots in front of the basket, as well as a wide-open midrange jumper on a well-executed pick-and-roll with Geo Baker. Defensively, he could not contain Jordan Murphy, especially when Minnesota pitted them against each other in designed iso plays. He picked up two early fouls as a result and sat for large chunks of time.
One thing that stood out about his performance was his effort. When Minnesota was lacksidasical on a restart, Freeman took advantage and picked off the outlet pass. He eventually converted a lay-up to cut Minnesota’s lead to six points at the under-four media timeout.
It would be the closest Rutgers came for the remainder of the game.
Rating — 6.5
Statline: 13 points, 9 rebounds, 26 minutes
Doucoure was supposed to be a senior in high school right about now, dominating kids his age as a four-star prospect. Instead, he elected to reclassify and enroll at Rutgers this season. The results were not promising early, as foul trouble and the speed of the game plagued the freshman against the likes of CCNY — a Division III opponent.
Well, the young player evaporated any qualms fans had about him earlier in the season. Doucoure had a coming-out party in Minneapolis Sunday, exploding for a career-high in points and rebounds behind an enthusiastic, high-energy performance. Along with his impressive statline, Doucoure added a couple of hustle plays that didn’t show up on the statsheet.
“For him to come into this environment and have almost a double-double in his first Big Ten game was awesome,” Pikiell told Carlin. “I liked his poise out there, I really did. He’s been getting better and better. He got five fouls today but I thought he played with fouls too. He’s had his foul trouble early in those games, I thought he managed it.”
Doucoure continued to demonstrate difficulties in discipline as he fouled out with two minutes to go, but that is something he develops as he catches up with the speed of the game. For now, the early signs of his potential along with his hustle should leave Rutgers fans excited for his future.
Rating — 8
Off The Bench:
Statline: 11 points, 2 rebounds
Eugene Omoruyi had a career night last time out against Florida State, and it looked like he would build on it against Minnesota. He started off by knocking in three straight buckets through tough, old-fashioned grit, pounding his defender on the block and finishing with a soft touch.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, that stretch was Omoruyi’s best of the night. Minnesota adjusted quickly by double-teaming Omoruyi in the post and the sophomore wasn’t able to counter. On defense, he had a hard time containing Reggie Lynch, who beat him for position on the block multiple times.
Rating — 6.5
Stateline: 1 foul
Souf Mensah serves a purpose for the Rutgers basketball team — play hard on defense, circulate the ball on offense. He did what he’s asked to do for the most part and it shows on the statsheet — had it not been for a foul call, he would’ve finished with a trillion. He got lucky for not picking up a turnover, as a bad foul call against Minnesota took away a clean steal.
Rating — 5.5
Statline: 3 points, 3 assists, 1 rebounds, 22 minutes
Something has to be up with Mike Williams.
The Scarlet Knights super-sub for much of last season, the senior guard continues to struggle as Rutgers enters the difficult portion of its schedule. After he factored just 5 points in 15 minutes against Florida State, Williams put up a measly 3 points against the Golden Gophers while he went 1-for-5 from downtown.
Whether it be due to an early-season knee injury or simply a mental block, Williams’ lack of form leaves Rutgers without one of its best players.
Rating — 5
Statline: 0 points, 0 assists, 1 rebounds, 2 fouls
Other than being on the end of a failed alley-oop pass from Eugene Omoruyi, not much stuck out from Doorson’s performance. The center continues to work himself into shape, but he’ll need to recover quickly for the Scarlet Knights to have a chance against physically dominant teams like Minnesota. He struggled mightily to contain Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch in his 10 minutes of action.
Rating — 4.5
These numbers are subjective, so if you disagree and want to let me know, come holler at me over on Twitter (@briannnnf) or shoot me an email (briannnnf@gmail dot com).
Rutgers returns to action Tuesday when it hosts Big Ten and National Championship favorites No. 3 Michigan State at 7 p.m. on BTN.