Rutgers lost a dog fight tonight 60-54. Aaron has the stats and recap. Me? I got some thoughts.
Glynn Watson, Jr. Was the Reason Rutgers Lost: The point guard had Corey Sanders locked up most of the night. He was too quick for Corey, and always a step ahead. He anticipated what Sanders was going to do and forced Corey (and occasionally Geo Baker) into turnovers and overall bad play. Watson frustrated Sanders and at a time when Nebraska needed it most, he got to the rim for a lay-up that essentially iced the game. Sanders had a bad game because Watson did what he was supposed to and forced Corey into a bad game.
The Loss of Mike Williams Was Felt In This One: Tonight, it felt like every time Rutgers got close, they made a key mistake on offense or defense. Williams is always the player who’s done the little things right. He grinds out games and gets the key rebound when it was needed (say, for instance, like when James Palmer, Jr missed a 3 with just under a minute left and up only 2?). Also, Williams could have guarded Palmer, which would have allowed Issa Thiam to give Isaac Copeland a different defensive match-up and maybe slowed him down. Instead, Matt Bullock was forced to guard Palmer for a few possessions and Bullock isn’t there defensively yet. Remember, Rutgers only lost by 6 points. Williams could have made up for that with his defense and maybe a timely three. On the slightly optimistic note, Williams did not have crutches tonight, but was still walking with a noticeable limp.
Issa Thiam Got Good Looks: Thiam is Rutgers best three point shooter and had been on a bit of a hot streak the last few games. Rutgers was able to move the ball well enough at times to get him lots of open looks. In fact, of his 7 three point shots, I don’t remember Issa taking a bad one. That said, of those 7 shots, he made exactly 0 of them. You can’t win if that happens. Those are 7 empty offensive possessions where you get the look you want. Steve Pikiell is coaching his butt off with this team, but they are still not talented enough offensively for players to have bad nights and still get a win.
The refereeing was odd: From my seats, it was tough to tell how good the Cornhuskers interior defense was, but Pikiell seemed frustrated with the stripes during his radio postgame interview. When Watson wasn’t wrapping Corey Sanders up with good defense, Sanders was able to get into the lane, however, Nebraska’s big men where they to block his shots or body him just enough. Usually, when you are the home team, some of those drives can get you to the free throw line. But it never happened for Corey. Nebraska got 3 more free throws than Rutgers did, though the Scarlet Knights were fouling at the end of the game. The referees didn’t cause Rutgers to lose, but in a game where every little thing helps, a favorable home whistle could have turned the tide. Just like Mike Williams being not injured or an Issa three going down, the little things turn the game.