The Rutgers men’s basketball team went on the road for the first time all season and left with its biggest win so far, upsetting Miami (5-2) by the score of 57-54. The Hurricanes had won 19 straight non-conference games at home, but the streak is now over. The Scarlet Knights, double digit underdogs, played tremendous team defense and made some clutch baskets within its halfcourt offense to outplay a more talented Miami team. It was one of the biggest victories in Steve Pikiell’s two-plus seasons on the job and gives this young squad a world of confidence as Big Ten play opens this weekend.
Miami jumped out to a 13-4 lead six and a half minutes into the game, putting Rutgers in a danger zone early. They started 0-5 from three-point range and the Miami defense was forcing them to run its halfcourt offense too high on the perimeter. However, head coach Steve Pikiell didn’t waver in going to his bench by inserting three freshman in Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, and Ron Harper Jr. Along with starters Geo Baker and Issa Thiam, Rutgers climbed back into the game. They started to get penetration to the rim, taking better shots and then Issa was able to knock down the first three-pointer of the game to tie it up. After the media timeout, a Peter Kiss bucket completed an 11-0 run, which gave Rutgers the lead.
After some back and forth with the game tied at 19, Rutgers finished the first half on a 9-5 run to head into the locker room leading by four points, 28-24. While the Scarlet Knights struggled from three-point range, making just 2 of 11 in the opening frame, Rutgers shot 41% from the floor overall. The team defense was fantastic and held Miami to just 31% from the field, forced them into 10 turnovers and held a 10-3 edge in points in transition. RU was also using its size to its advantage, holding a 16-10 edge in points in the paint. The poise of the team in its first road game to be able to come back after a slow start and outplay Miami for most of the first half was impressive.
At the start of the second half, Rutgers jumped out to an eight point lead behind baskets from Geo Baker and Eugene Omoruyi, leading 32-24 at the 17:33 minute mark. However, Miami leading scorer Chris Lykes, who missed some action after appearing to tweak his ankle, reenergized the Hurricanes and they tied the game on a 8-0 run. It turned into a 13-2 run as Miami led 37-34 with 12:33 remaining in the game.
Rutgers responded once again, with Baker making a three-pointer off of a timeout, followed by a Ron Harper Jr. jumper to put the Scarlet Knights back in the lead. However, Lykes, who was just 1 of 4 from the field at this point in the game, made his second three-pointer of the game to give the Hurricanes the lead back at the midway point of the second half.
The back and forth continued, as Mathis made a big bucket cutting to the basket and scoring off a great dish from Issa. He was fouled but missed the free throw. Miami grew the lead to three points, but Kiss tied it up with his second make from behind the arc in the game. The score was 44-44 with just over 8 minutes to play.
A Geo Baker jumper put Rutgers up three, followed by Miami tying the game after a Anthony Lawrence trifecta. Following the under-eight timeout, Baker hit a three-pointer from the corner to put the Scarlet Knights back out in front. After a Miami basket, Baker then found Kiss in transition for a huge bucket, forcing a Hurricanes timeout trailing 52-49. After some sloppy play and missed shots from both teams, Pikiell called a timeout with Rutgers leading 52-50 with 3:22 left in the game. Miami hadn’t scored in over three minutes, Rutgers in over two.
Out of the timeout, Baker showed patience and found Omoruyi, who stepped out behind the three-point line and drained a monster shot behind the arc, giving Rutgers a 55-50 lead. After Baker missed a jumper with a chance to extend it even further, Zak Johnson scored a huge tip-in off of an offensive rebound to cut the lead to three points with just under two minutes left in the game.
Kiss had a shot go in and out on the next possession, and Miami cut the lead to 1 off another Johnson basket. Omoruyi missed a jumper as the shot clock was expiring and Miami had a chance to take back the lead with less than a minute to play. However, Lawrence missed an open three and Issa Thiam grabbed the rebound, was fouled and calmly drained both free throws. Rutegrs led 57-54 with 21.9 seconds to play. Miami called a timeout to set up their last possession. They put the ball into their best players hands in Chris Lykes, who took a three but it was blocked by Baker. Johnson grabbed it for Miami but missed it and Doorson grabbed the huge rebound. He missed his free throw but the Hail Mary for the Hurricanes clanked off the rim and the upset was complete, Rutgers winning 57-54!
This was a fantastic performance from Steve Pikiell’s team. The team defense was sensational, something I wouldn’t have believed even two weeks ago. The improvement on the defensive end in the last three games has been nothing short of extraordinary. They held a Miami team that had scored at least 78 points in its first six games of the season and averaged 83 overall to just 54 points on 34% shooting. It was a total team effort from start to finish. They held leading scorer Chris Lykes, who averaged 19.5 points coming into the game to just 8 points.
Baker continues to lead this team like a seasoned veteran, as he led the way with 16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks. Peter Kiss had a strong performance, making 5 of 10 shots for 12 points, adding 3 rebounds and 3 steals. Omoruyi hit that monster three late and finished with 11 points and 4 boards. Issa had 7 points and 7 rebounds in addition to fantastic defense as usual, along with 2 blocks and 2 steals. Doorson was huge on the interior with his defense and rebounding, pulling down a team high 10 boards and 1 block. Harper Jr added 6 points and 4 boards, while Mathis had two big baskets in this game for four points, as well as his best defense yet.
As a team, Rutgers went on the road and beat a good Miami team only shooting 41% from the floor and 6 of 24 from behind the arc. They were out rebounded by 3 and committed 14 turnovers, 1 more than Miami. However, they played together and with poise, never wavering as the game progressed into crunch time. This team really takes on the persona of their head coach, Baker and Omoruyi. There were some key moments from Harper Jr. and Mathis in this game, showing flashes that will only grow into more substantial contributions as the season continues. Doorson and Issa have been solid all season and did the little things tonight, along with a spirited effort from Kiss. It was a true team win.
The three game gauntlet now shifts to the RAC, where Rutgers will host #9 and conference favorite Michigan State in the Big Ten opener on Friday night. It’s already a sellout for the 6 p.m. tip, the first November one since Rutgers hosted Princeton in 1997. It will be a tall task for the Scarlet Knights on such short rest and facing such a talented team as the Spartans. However, they are coming home with a ton of momentum and confidence, as well as a 5-1 record.
For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.