If you wanted to draw up the best possible response for a young basketball team such as Rutgers after a disappointing loss like the one Friday against St. John’s, it couldn’t look any better than Monday’s performance against Eastern Michigan. Facing the matchup zone for the first time, Rutgers approached it with poise and a collective effort to share the basketball. However, they were most impressive on the defensive end, tying an NCAA record by holding EMU to the fewest points in a first half in the shot clock era and went to the locker room leading 31-4. While the second half was more evenly played, Rutgers dominated when they needed to in spots and routed Eastern Michigan by the final score of 63-36. It tied the record for the fewest points that Rutgers has allowed in the shot clock era.
(note: BTN reported during the game Rutgers set the first half record, but it was later reported that it actually tied the record set ironically by Eastern Michigan in 2013. The NCAA record book was reportedly incorrect. Article has been adjusted.)
They started lightning fast and held a 11-0 lead at first media timeout, as Rutgers moved the ball around the zone to find the open shooter.
It was then 17-2 at the ten minute mark. Rutgers was sharing the basketball well and started the game 8 of 13 from the field. They were finding holes within the zone, but struggled at times with it as well, turning it over 7 times in the first 11 minutes. However, the lead ballooned to 22-2 after a tremendous pass from Harper to set up a Doorson slam, followed by a Peter Kiss make from 25 feet off the break. It was his second three-ball and RU was 3 of 7 at this point, shaking off the rust from Friday night. EMU was 1 of 14 from the field and it was due to excellent defense from Rutgers. Shaq Doorson was in position and imposing his will throughout and the length of Rutgers was a problem for the visitors.
The Eagles made their second field goal at the 5:36 mark of the first half, and then didn’t score again, ensuring Rutgers ties a first half NCAA record since the shot clock era began in 1986 and tied the fewest points allowed in any half as well. After some scrapping for a few minutes, Baker hit a contested three to give Rutgers a 26-4 with just over 3 minutes left in the opening frame. Then a beautiful segment that was all because of Issa Thiam, who made two passes in the halfcourt before Baker passed it back as he was wide open behind the arc, smoothly draining it. Rutgers led 31-4 at the half.
At the start of the second half, EMU made a concerted effort to attack the rim and equaled its first half scoring total in the first minute after the break. Pikiell called a timeout to give his team a chance to refocus. The pace picked up considerably as Eastern Michigan applied fullcourt pressure in an effort to try and come back from such a large deficit. An alley-oop from Baker was slammed home by Issa Thiam that got them on the board.
Then, Geo Baker stepped up in a major way and soon asserted himself and took over the game. He made four jumpers, including his third, fourth and fifth shots of the game from behind the arc. Peter Kiss then hit his third from deep and Rutgers had a commanding 51-22 lead at the midway point of the second half. Rutgers cruised to an impressive 63-36 victory. It tied the fewest points that Rutgers has allowed in a game in the shot clock era.
Baker showed his maturity in this game, getting Rutgers into proper halfcourt sets against the zone and making sure the basketball moved early on. It helped them make some early shots and gain confidence against the matchup zone and while turnovers were an issue, there was plenty of things to be happy about. He along with Omoruyi are the leaders of this team and the entire group responded in a great way after Friday’s loss. When EMU found momentum for the first time on the night early in the second half, Baker made sure to slam the door on them quickly and he handled fullcourt pressure relatively well.. He finished with a game high 20 points on 7 of 9 shooting, including 6 of 8 from three-point range, as well as 5 assists and 2 rebounds.
It really was a great team effort as well. Peter Kiss bounced back from a poor performance against the Johnnies with 10 points, including 3 of 6 from three-point range. Shaq Doorson was fantastic on both ends of the floor, dunking on all four shots he took and finished with 9 points, as well as playing great defense and blocking 3 shots, as well as adding 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Eugene Omoruyi had 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, as well as drawing 3 charges in the game. Issa Thiam added 7 points, a team high 6 ssists, 3 rebounds and strong defense yet again. Myles Johnson only scored 2 points on just 2 shots, but grabbed a team high 7 rebounds, had 2 steals and a beautiful halfcourt assist on a bounce pass to Omoruyi. Ron Harper Jr. tied Johnson with 7 boards and added 4 points, while Mamadou Doucoure played his best game, pulling down 6 boards in just 10 minutes of action.
The most encouraging stat on the offensive end was that Rutgers assisted on 20 of 24 field goals made in the game. I don’t remember seeing a Rutgers team properly execute so many bounce passes in one game in forever. While they shot a decent 42.9% from the field overall, shot selection was much better in this game. They took the right shots from behind the arc and finished a solid 10 of 24 from three for 41.7%. Sharing the basketball is leading to quality shots and this team is fun to watch play together.
This level of passing was non-existent for Rutgers last season. Without a doubt, the selflessness from the Scarlet Knights to give up good shots for great shots has been their biggest jump as a collective over the past year. pic.twitter.com/0LJDMVAqQ2— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) November 20, 2018
Defensively, this was the type of effort Steve Pikiell was looking for. Eastern Michigan was held to 28% shooting and had just 6 fast break points. Both teams turned it over 20 times, but Rutgers held a 22-6 edge in points off of turnovers, so they did a good job of not letting those mistakes hurt them. Needing to take care of the basketball also gives the head coach something to focus on after an otherwise complete effort in the victory. Rutgers also held a +3 edge on the boards.
Up next, Rutgers returns to the RAC on Black Friday for a matinee against Boston University. This was as encouraging a performance as you could have expected from Rutgers in this game. It reflects highly on Pikiell and the rest of the coaching staff to see this inexperienced team respond so well after the disappointment of the St. John’s loss. The team played with purpose from the opening tip and they executed the game plan magnificently. The defensive effort was the best we’ve seen this season by far as well. Eastern Michigan is a veteran team that was picked to win its division in the MAC and Rutgers completely outplayed them. This is still a group that is a work in progress, but watching this team continue to develop as the season progresses is an exciting thought indeed.
For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.