While there was hope that Steve Pikiell’s young team was ready for prime time in a big game against St. John’s, it was painfully obvious this group has a ways to go. When three-point shots didn’t fall early, they missed their first 10 attempts, Rutgers forced the action and never found a rhythm. On the flip side, St. John’s looked comfortable from the start and looked very much liked the more seasoned team that they were. It resulted in an easy 84-65 victory in front a solid turnout at the RAC, but the home faithful had little to cheer about.
St. John’s made three shots from behind the arc before the first media timeout and jumped out to an 11-4 lead. Rutgers looked a little too amped up and shot poorly from the start, unable to replicate their shooting touch from the first two games. They rushed shots and didn’t look to score inside the paint enough, something that was true the entire game. It was frustrating because Shaq Doorson looked good early, scoring six points in the first few minutes of the game. Omoruyi played the high low game early, feeding Doorson in the low post to exploit a mismatch with 6’7” Marvin Clark II trying to cover the 7-footer. Doorson slammed it home, which followed this impressive dunk of an offensive rebound to start the game.
Anddd Shaq Doorson gets the night of hoops started right.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 17, 2018
The @RutgersMBB big fella throws one down before fans at the RAC can even get settled, and it's a #BTNStandout presented by @AutoOwnersIns: pic.twitter.com/d386FFFDuX
Unfortunately, St. John’s held a 15-7 lead as Rutgers missed opportunities from the free throw line. They missed five of six attempts in the first seven minutes of the game, allowing St. John’s to keep Rutgers at arm’s length. The Scarlet Knights started to relax some and their athleticism was evident with the play of freshman Montez Mathis, Myles Johnson, and Ron Harper Jr. Their inexperience showed at times, but Baker had found Harper Jr. off of dribble penetration late first half to cut the lead to two points.
With the score 24-23 and less than five minutes left in the opening frame, St. John’s ended the half on a 14-4 run to lead 38-27 at the break. Rutgers struggled to make plays and the visitors took advantage by stretching the lead in the closing minutes of the half, a sign of a good veteran team.
The Johnnies were 7 of 16 from three-point range at the half, while Rutgers was just 2 of 14. The Scarlet Knights shot poorly overall in the first half, making just 33% shots from the floor and a horrid 1 of 8 from the free throw line. Ball movement was lacking and they didn’t do a good enough job of attacking the rim or look to use their size advantage inside. There were far too many rushed shots and the team looked out of rhythm the entire first half.
Issa Thiam scored the first five points of the second half for Rutgers and looked to give them a lift, but St. John’s continued to shoot well from behind the arc. With St. John’s leading 45-37 a little more than five minutes into the second half, Mustapha Heron, who played very well in this game, stepped up by making back to back three’s, forcing Steve Pikiell to call a timeout and putting Rutgers in a major hole down 14 points. It was the largest deficit they had faced at this stage of the game, but the lead for St. John’s would continue to grow.
Chris Mullin’s team started the second half 7 of 11 from behind the arc and led Rutgers by the score of 70-49 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, after leading by as much as 24 points. The air had been fully let out of the RAC and the issue was no longer in doubt, although the way Rutgers played from the start, it seemed inevitable. Their big game inexperience showed and when shots didn’t fall early, they failed to recover. St. John’s cruised to an easy victory with the final score of 84-65 behind 16 of 32 shooting from three-point range.
Mustapha Heron led the Johnnies with 27 points on 10 of 14 shooting, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, as well as 6 rebounds. LJ Figueroa paced St. John’s with 16 first half points and he finished with 23 in the game, including making 6 of 9 shots from behind the arc. Those two were so dominant, it didn’t matter that preseason Big East Player of the Year Shamorie Ponds had a quite night, finishing with just 8 points on 3 of 10 shooting, but did add 5 assists and 3 rebounds.
For Rutgers, the three tallest players on the roster had the best performances. Issa Thiam continued his steady play, scoring 13 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. He was 5 of 12 from the floor and 3 of 8 from three-point range, having one of the better shooting nights on the team. The frontcourt play of Shaq Doorson in the first half and Myles Johnson throughout was certainly encouraging. It was a big question mark whether Rutgers could get enough production from its frontcourt this season, but these two players have performed well through three games. Doorson finished with 6 points on 3 of 3 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 1 block, all in the first half. Johnson was also efficient, scoring 7 points on 3 of 4 shooting, as well as grabbing 7 rebounds, 1 block and 1 assist.
Rutgers failed to attack the rim nearly enough with dribble penetration and failed to use their size advantage inside. This was a game Corey Sanders was missed in creating scoring opportunities off of drives.
Eugene Omoruyi wasn’t able to impose his will the way Rutgers needed him to, but he had a solid line of 12 points, 7 boards, and 3 assists, while making 5 of 6 from the free throw line. Geo Baker struggled and never got into a flow of the game, which was a big reason the offense never found a rhythm all night. Baker finished with 7 points on just 1 of 7 shooting, while adding 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
The freshman duo of Montez Mathis and Ron Harper Jr. showed flashes in this game, but it was also evident they have a learning curve in being able to adjust to a faster paced game against a talented high major team. Mathis had 6 points on just 2 of 10 from the field, while Harper Jr. added 8 points on 3 of 6 shooting.
As a team, Rutgers made just 22 of 63 shots from the floor for only 35%, including just 7 of 26 from behind the arc. After starting the season shooting 56.5% on 46 attempts from three-point range, Rutgers made just 27% of its shots from deep in this game. They also made just 14 of 25 attempts from the charity stripe for 56%. RU committed 14 turnovers (-4 margin), held a +3 edge on the glass and a 28-12 advantage with points in the paint. However, they should have exploited St. John’s lack of post presence on the defensive end more so and not settled for so many quick shots and jumpers. They only had 12 assists in the game on 22 made field goals. Only Thiam and Omoruyi scored in double figures on the night.
Rutgers returns to the RAC on Monday night against a veteran Eastern Michigan team that will be a challenge for sure. There are a lot of lessons for this young team to learn from this game. They didn’t play with a lot of discipline or poise in this game and it cost them against a veteran team like St. John’s.
The defense is not at the level it was last year and this team was unable to stay in the game when the shots didn’t fall. It’s something they need to work on as they can’t rely on three-point shooting as their main identity. They’re improved in that area, but they need to be much more balanced overall on both ends of the floor. I’m surprised Pikiell didn’t use any zone to try and throw St. John’s off rhythm, but another takeaway is that this may be the most athletic team Rutgers faces all season. We knew St. John’s has superior talent, which they proved, and Rutgers didn’t make up for it in other ways. While it’s a disappointment they didn’t play well or keep the game close, this loss could serve as a valuable learning experience for Rutgers as they get into Big Ten play in just a couple of weeks.
For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.