The holidays may be over, but it was a silent night for the Rutgers men’s basketball team on Wednesday. In the first game of 2018 and just the second road game of the season, Rutgers was overwhelmed by a superior basketball team in #13th ranked Purdue. Give credit to the Scarlet Knights, who battled a far more talented team to the very end and never quit in this game, but simply didn’t have any answer for the Big Ten defending champions, who are an explosive and balanced squad again this season.
After a Deshawn Freeman dunk cut the lead to 9-7, Purdue rolled off a 14-2 run that included three wide open three-pointers, two of which were from Dakota Mathias. Another Freeman dunk stopped the run, but then Carsen Edwards made his second shot from behind the arc in the game and the Boilermakers led 26-11 with 7:56 to play in the first half.
The game was out of reach pretty quickly, as Rutgers simply doesn’t have the shooters to compete with a team as well-rounded and talented as Purdue. It didn’t get much better during the remaining portion of the opening frame, as Purdue headed to the break with a commanding 45-24 lead. They shot an impressive 55% from the field and were even better from long range, as they shot 58% from behind the arc, making 7 of 12 attempts. Four of those were wide open looks that Purdue got off of defensive breakdowns by Rutgers. The Boilermakers were running them off of screens often in the halfcourt and had tremendous ball movement.
On the other end, the Scarlet Knights struggled to get any dribble penetration and settled for too many contested jump shots. They shot just 29% from the floor and were 0 of 7 from three-point range. While Rutgers committed just 4 first half turnovers and held a +4 edge in that category over Purdue, they were -10 on the boards. The size and physicality was too much for the frontcourt of Rutgers.
After the break, Rutgers came out and competed hard in the second half. After RU started the half on a 13-6 run, Purdue was able to regain its footing and didn’t let the Scarlet Knights get closer than 14 points in the second frame. Rutgers continued to battle and were able to cut the lead to 57-42 with 11 minutes to play after Freeman made a jumper. The reality is that every mini-run that Rutgers was able to generate throughout the game, Purdue had too many weapons and were able to quickly respond. At this juncture of the contest, Purdue rattled off a 14-3 run that ended any small hope of Rutgers cutting the deficit to single digits. The Scarlet Knights were mired in a 0 for 8 shooting slump from the field and the score got out of hand, as they ultimately fell by the score of 82-51.
This game highlighted some obvious deficiencies for Rutgers. First and foremost, that this team is severely limited on the offensive end. As I wrote in the game preview, Purdue has five different players averaging 37% or better from three-point range. Rutgers only has one player shooting that well in Issa Thiam, who came into tonight shooting 39% from behind the arc (23 of 59). Purdue was able to focus on him and limit his ability to get his shot off. He was just 0 of 2 from three-point range in this game and scored only 2 points in 24 minutes of action. The Boilermakers were feeling it tonight, as they made 10 of 23 from deep for 43.5%, but that was just slightly better than its season average of 41%. That’s how good of a shooting team they are. Until Rutgers has multiple shooters on the roster that can enable them to keep up with a high scoring opponent like Purdue, they’ll struggle to be competitive on the road and away from the home crowd at the RAC against such a high quality opponent.
Without much of an offensive game in the paint, Purdue overplayed the guards of Rutgers and contested most shots in the halfcourt. The Boilermakers dominated points in the paint (28 to 14) and second chance points (13 to 6). The size and physicality of Purdue stifled Rutgers on the boards as well, as they finished with just 27 rebounds in the game and only 6 on the offensive glass. That’s 19 boards less overall than its season average and 10 less of its average on the offensive glass. Rutgers was also called for 25 fouls and freshman center Mamadou Doucoure fouled out with 12:57 to play and Rutgers trailing by 14 points. He showed some immaturity by letting his frustration lead to a technical foul. Doucoure did show some touch on offense, as he made the first two jumpers of the game for Rutgers and finished with 8 points on 3 of 4 shooting, but grabbed only 2 rebounds.
Purdue’s center, Isaac Haas, led the way with a solid 14 points and 6 rebounds. He was one of five players to score in double digits for the home team. They shot 49% from the floor overall and were 20 of 28 for 71% from the free throw line.
While Rutgers held Purdue to 7 points below its season average and they only shot 42% in the second half, they didn’t have an answer on offense. Geo Baker led the team with 11 points on 4 of 12 shooting, while Mike Williams added 10 points on 3 of 8 shooting, as well as 5 rebounds. Freeman finished with 9 points on 4 of 13 shooting, but was ineffective inside in the halfcourt and had just 2 rebounds. Corey Sanders also struggled, scoring just 8 points on 4 of 14 shooting. Shaq Doorson led the team with 6 rebounds and had some defensive stops on the trees of Purdue as well.
Rutgers (10-6; 0-3) will have a quick turnaround, as Wisconsin (9-7; 2-1) visits the RAC on Friday night. The Badgers have struggled at times this season, but are currently on a five game winning streak and beat Indiana by 10 points on Tuesday. Obviously, the Scarlet Knights almost took down a superior Wisconsin club last season at Madison Square Garden before falling in overtime. This matchup on Friday is far less daunting than tonight’s game and if Rutgers can regroup, they’ll have a chance to win the game.
It’s easy to look at the score and say Rutgers didn’t show up tonight, but that’s simply not the case. They played hard and never quit, but didn’t have enough offensive firepower, talent or depth to keep up. Purdue has a legitimate shot to repeat as conference champions and start four seniors. Their ability to control the game and answer every time Rutgers put together some positive stretches of play completely stymied any momentum they generated. This is a game that Rutgers has to put behind them and forget, as there are much better matchups and winnable games ahead in Big Ten play the rest of the way.
For Dave White’s Four Thoughts, click here.