After an 80 point performance on Wednesday in the win over Iowa, the highest offensive output for Rutgers in Big Ten play this season, the Scarlet Knights struggled mightily shooting the ball on the road Sunday afternoon. It was a defensive battle the way head coach Steve Pikiell wanted it to be, but Rutgers was unable to keep up, shooting just 33% from the floor in falling to Michigan 62-47.
After Michigan scored the first basket of the game, Rutgers went on a 8-0 run over a 5-plus minute stretch, frustrating the Wolverines on the offensive end. They made just 1 of its first 11 shot attempts before leading scorer Charles Matthews hit a three-pointer. It ignited the Michigan attack, as they got hot from the floor, making 8 of 11 shots that spurred an 16-2 run. Rutgers had 5 turnovers in the first ten minutes, while also going ice cold from the floor, missing seven straight shots. It resulted in a 8-plus minute scoreless stretch and the Wolverines lead ballooned to 22-12 with 4:22 to play in the half.
With the game on the verge of getting out of hand, Corey Sanders made a timely jumper that Rutgers sorely needed. On the next offensive possession, Sanders shot an air ball on a three-point attempt, but Eugene Omoruyi grabbed the miss as shot clock was expiring and calmly finished with a putback that drew a foul. He completed the three-point play. On the following trip down the floor, Matt Bullock, who had 2 points and 3 rebounds in the first half, inexplicably took 6’11” Moe Wagner one on one and threw up an air ball on the drive. However, Deshawn Freeman grabbed it and finished to complete a 7-0 run and Michigan only led 22-19. The Wolverines recovered with a three-point play by Zavier Simpson and went to the locker room at the half leading 27-21.
Rutgers committed an uncharacteristic 8 turnovers in the first half and shot just 31% from the floor. They did hold a +2 edge on the boards and Michigan was only shooting 37% from the field. Foul trouble was lingering for the Scarlet Knights, as Sanders, Mamadou Doucoure, and Issa Thiam all had 2 fouls apiece in the opening frame.
After the break, Michigan made two of its first three shots to lead 32-23 before Issa Thiam calmly hit a three-pointer in the corner off of transition from a pass from Freeman. It was the first assist of the game for the Scarlet Knights, who were not passing nearly enough in the halfcourt, trying to one on one too often up to this point in the game.
Moe Wagner started heating up for Michigan and a three-pointer with 15:34 remaining in the game gave the home team a 37-27 lead. However, Eugene Omoruyi completed his second three-point play of the game and drew the third foul on Wagner. After a Freeman bucket in traffic in the paint cut it to 38-32, Michigan scored on a easy basket in transition, as Rutgers struggled to back on defense at times in this game.
Coming out of the under-12 timeout and trailing by 8 points, Rutgers was at a crucial point in the game. Sanders drove to the rim and drew the foul, making 1 of 2. However, Duncan Robinson continued to hurt Rutgers, making his fourth three-pointer of the game. On the next Michigan possession, Jordan Poole made a runner in traffic and Rutgers called a timeout, trailing 45-33 with 9:17 to play. The Scarlet Knights hadn’t made a field goal in four minutes and the game was slipping away.
Out of the timeout, Pikiell called a play for Geo Baker, who converted the layup for just his second basket of the game. After a pick and roll that led to a Moe Wagner score, Freeman committed an offensive foul on the next possession. Michigan pushed the lead to 14 points, before Baker hit a jumper. However, Zavier Simpson made his second basket in a row and Rutgers was unable to sustain any momentum.
After Sanders delivered a baseline layup cutting the lead to 12, Moe Wagner delivered a dagger three=pointer, his second of the game. Issa Thiam answered with his second deep ball of the game, bringing the deficit back to 12 with 5 minutes remaining in the game. A Freeman free throw made 54-43 with 3:56 to play, but Rutgers never got closer the rest of the way. Michigan finished the game on a 8-5 run to win 62-47.
In this game, Rutgers couldn’t find space in the halfcourt on offense to penetrate and failed to share the basketball the way they did against Iowa. There was too much one on one play, which led to difficult, contested jump shots from Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights only produced 1 assist the entire game, which is was a major problem. They simply don’t have enough playmakers on offense to score in that manner and predictably struggled. Rutgers also had zero fast break points, failing to produce much offense off of turnovers, getting outscored 15-6 in that category.
Defensively, Rutgers did play reasonably well overall, holding Michigan to 62 points, 13 below their season average, and the Wolverines shot just 43% from the field. Michigan did struggle from three-point range, making just 8 of 25 attempts for 32%. They were certainly slowed by stingy defense of the Scarlet Knights.
The two teams each grabbed 33 rebounds, but Rutgers committed 13 turnovers, while UM only had 9. Rutgers came into the game with a Big Ten best +5 turnover margin, so this was a contributing factor in the loss. Another key stat was Michigan outscoring RU 28-16 with points in paint, as well as a 7-0 edge in fastbreak points.
Moe Wagner led the Wolverines with 16 points and 6 rebounds, while Duncan Robinson added 12, all on three-pointers. Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson chipped in with 10 apiece.
Sanders led Rutgers with 12 points on 3 of 10 from the floor, along with 4 rebounds and a steal. He did commit 3 turnovers and had zero assists. Freeman played with energy and produced a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, but was just 4 of 12 from the floor. No other Rutgers players scored in double figures, as Baker had 8 points on 4 of 10 shooting abd was 0-3 from three-point range. He also committed 3 turnovers and had zero assists. Omoruyi finished with 8 points, 4 rebounds, and drew one charge. Issa Thiam continued his hot hand from behind the arc, making 2 of 3 and is now 15 of 30 in his last 8 games from deep, but wasn’t involved nearly enough as he should have been. He finished with 6 points and 5 boards.
Rutgers (12-9; 2-6) returns home to host Nebraska (14-7; 5-3) on Wednesday night at the RAC. Aside from the surprise of Ohio State being tied with Purdue at 8-0 atop of the Big Ten standings, the Cornhuskers have exceeded expectations the most of any other conference team. Last season, the two teams met just once, with Rutgers beating Nebraska on a Sanders putback in the final seconds for their first Big Ten win of the season. Rutgers now enters a stretch of three games that are by no means easy, but certainly an opportunity to pick up multiple victories. They’ll need to regroup from this loss, as there are ten regular season conference games still to play and plenty of opportunity to climb up the Big Ten standings.
Steve Pikiell’s postgame thoughts in his interview with Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan of the Rutgers radio network:
“Obviously, if you can’t score, you can’t win. We got one assist in the game, that’s got to be an all-time low for us. Way too much one-on-one stuff. You got to be disciplined to stay in your sets. We could’ve pounded the ball inside. We might not of made shots inside, but that’s what they didn’t want us to do.”
“We got in foul trouble and some frustration set in. Obviously, you’re playing a ranked team that’s very good at home, you’ve got to play better than that. I thought we competed, I thought our defense was fine, but obviously, we went from 80 points and being a terrific offensive team the other night against Iowa to this team tonight and that’s part of who we are. One step forward, one step back and unfortunately, that’s where we are right now. They’re also a team that when we got close, they hit a few dagger threes and just really separates them.
“We just really struggled on that end of the floor tonight but I thought we really could’ve just grinded it. I said to our guys ‘this game, if we can keep it in the 50’s, if we have to win 51-50, then that’s what we’re going to have to do.’ But obviously, we weren’t able to do that.”
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