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Rutgers Battles Michigan State But Falls Short 78-67

It was a spirited effort by the Scarlet Knights, but the execution and star power of the Spartans was too much to contend with

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The early 6 p.m. tip prevented the RAC from being full due to brutal traffic, but it didn’t prevent a fast start from Rutgers against the mighty Spartans of Michigan State. That set the tone for a Big Ten worthy back and forth battle, but ultimately talent won out. Rutgers wore down in the second half and the stars of MSU, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward, dominated for stretches, leading to a 78-67 Michigan State victory.

Rutgers came out on fire, as Geo Baker made two shots from behind the arc and Peter Kiss made one, causing the RAC to stir early and the home team led 13-8 at the first media timeout. Kiss hit his second from deep soon after and all of a sudden the Scarlet Knights led Michigan State 18-10 just a little more than five minutes into the game.

That seemed to wake up the Spartans, who promptly went on a 9-0 run started by back to back three-pointers of their own. Rutgers was scoreless for about a four minute stretch, before Eugene Omoruyi remained proficient from behind the arc this season, draining his first of the game and putting Rutgers back in the lead.

Kiss then slammed home a dunk on a pass from Issa Thiam to give Rutgers a 23-19 lead and the crowd was going nuts.

Trouble then began, as Baker picked up his second foul with over 9 minutes remaining in the first half. At this point in the game, he was playing great defense on Spartans star point guard Cassius Winston, holding him to just three points. Baker exited and while Winston finished the half with 12 points to lead Michigan State, replacement Caleb McConnell played the best stretch of his Rutgers career so far.

With Michigan State on a 6-0 run and two point lead since Baker exited, McConnell stepped up in a big way. He made a huge three-pointer and finished the half with 7 points in 8 minutes of play. The bench played very well in the opening frame, as the other three freshmen, Ron Harper Jr., Montez Mathis, and Myles Johnson combined for 5 points and 7 rebounds. Even Shaq Carter made an appearance and had a huge tip-in with less than a minute left in the half to give Rutgers the lead back. However, a Winston three-pointer gave Michigan State a 39-37 lead at the break.

Even so, it was an encouraging effort in the opening frame from Rutgers. They battled toe to toe with the Spartans, grabbed 9 offensive rebounds, was 6 of 16 from three-point range (38%) and had committed just 2 turnovers. Michigan State did outshot Rutgers overall in the first half, making 50% from the floor compared to 38% from the Scarlet Knights. The fact that they were within one basket of the Spartans at the half with Baker having played just 11 minutes was a major plus.

Out of the break, Rutgers set a screen for Kiss, who promptly made a baseline three to put Rutgers back in the lead to start the second half. However, Nick Ward took over and scored six straight points, followed by an Xavier Tillman dunk, giving Michigan State control with a 47-40 advantage at the first media timeout of the second half. Winston made his first bucket of the second half and Sparty was on a 10-0 run. Eugene Omoruyi ended it, making 1 of 2 free throws, but Rutgers continued to struggle from the field, mired in a 0-9 shooting funk over a 7-plus minute stretch. Omoruyi ended it backing down in the paint and banking it off the glass, getting the crowd back into it with Rutgers trailing 51-44 with 12 minutes left in the game.

Michigan State put the pedal to the medal at this point and led 59-46 with seven minutes to play. However, Rutgers didn’t stop fighting and after a Baker basket and Shaq Doorson making both free throws off a technical foul (he was 5-15 on the season), they got new life. Shaq slammed home a monster dunk off of an offensive rebound and the RAC was rocking with Rutgers now trailing 59-52.

It was a back and forth once again, as Geo Baker finally made a big jumper at the top of the key off of a jumper. Then it was Issa Thiam with a clutch corner three to cut the lead to 63-57. However, Michigan State continued to have an answer and in a flash the lead was back to 11 with just over four minutes remaining. The game ended 78-67 Spartans.

MSU was led by Nick Ward, who had 20 points and 5 rebounds, as well as Cassius Winston, who also had 22 points and 6 assists. Josh Langford had 14 points and Xavier Tillman added 11 points.

Eugene Omoruyi struggled shooting for most of the game but made a few at the end, finishing 7 of 18 from the floor. However, he battled and produced his fourth double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds, as well as drawing two charges, putting him at 12 already in just 7 games. Peter Kiss had 11 points on 3 of 9 from three-point range. Geo Baker got off rhythm due to foul trouble in the first half and had an off night, scoring just 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting along with 3 assists. Shaq Doorson had 6 points and 4 rebounds, while Issa Thiam had just 3 points on only 3 shots.

The freshman cut their teeth in this game and had some moments, especially McConnell in the first half, who scored all 7 points in the opening frame. Mathis had struggled from the free throw line so far but made 5 of 6 tonight. Myles Johnson had 4 points, 4 boards and a block.

As a team, Rutgers lost the statistical battle in several key areas. Michigan State outshot them (47% to 37%), , had a +4 rebounding margin, held a 13-3 edge in points off of turnovers, and a 16-5 advantage in second chance points.

Still, this was a solid effort from Rutgers less than 48 hours after its road win at Miami. It didn’t produce the result they were looking for, but they battled against the conference favorite and far more talented Spartans for 40 minutes. The defensive play wasn’t where it needed to be and Rutgers struggled shooting from the field, but the fight was there and the freshman gave a real spark to the team in the first half. This team is very much in its developmental phase and a loss like tonight will only help them continue to make progress. The reality is this though, Rutgers is not at the point they can beat the top teams in the Big Ten when Geo Baker and Eugene Omoruyi have off shooting nights. Rutgers was just 8 of 26 from three as well.

Up next, Rutgers (5-2; 0-1) heads back on the road a Monday night tilt at arguably the toughest Big Ten environment at #22 Wisconsin (6-1). It will be another major challenge and the team’s third game in six days. Rutgers looked really tired in the second half tonight, so they need to rest up and get ready for what will be another battle in conference play against the Badgers.


For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.