NEW YORK CITY - The Rutgers men’s basketball team saw their season come to an end on Friday night in a 82-75 loss to 3rd seeded and 8th ranked Purdue in the Quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The Scarlet Knights led by three points at the half and were within one possession of the lead with less than three minutes left in the game. After upset wins over 11th seeded Minnesota and 6th seeded Indiana the previous two nights, Rutgers barely fell short against one of the best teams in the country on stage in the big apple.
While the result was a loss and Rutgers finished 15-19 on the season, many national media were effusive in their praise of this team for their performance in the Big Ten Tournament. Another person of note who complimented the Scarlet Knights was Purdue head coach Matt Painter. In the postgame press conference, Painter was asked about beating Rutgers by 50 points at the RAC just two seasons ago and what improvement he has seen in the program since. Here is what he had to say:
“They compete. They play hard. I know that’s a basic thing. But when you -- you face one of Steve’s teams, you better bring your lunch. They’re going to hit you. They’re going to attack the glass. They’re going to play hard. The three constants I always talk about: Run, rebound and defend. That’s what they do: They play hard, they rebound the basketball and they defend.”
I’ve written about the importance of the culture that head coach Steve Pikiell has been establishing within this program since his arrival almost two years ago. A major difference in his tenure compared to past Rutgers coaches is his emphasis on the culture he is building above everything else. That trait was on full display during the past three days when Rutgers made a surprise appearance in the Quarterfinals. Painter highlighted the changes on the court that have resulted from that and have occurred since Pikiell took over.
Painter also touched on an area that was incredibly frustrating at times this season, which was the massive struggles of the offense. We saw how competitive Rutgers can be when they are shooting the basketball well. Painter made a point to say that in his view, their inability to score on a consistent basis was their biggest issue this season.
“I think if you would have saw these shot-making from these guys the whole season, they would have a different record. They always gave the effort. They always laid it on the line. But those guys are out there making some tough shots.They made those against us. Maybe that’s the common denominator. But throughout the season they don’t make those kind of shots all the time. If they can make shots like that, they’re in business, because his teams defend and his teams rebound.”
Painter also had positive things to say about the three best players for Rutgers:
“Corey Sanders is a tough cover. I know we really struggled with him in the second half of our game at Rutgers. And tonight he was fabulous again. Guys like Mike Williams he really helped them. Deshawn Freeman got four offensive rebounds and Mike got five. They’re hard to keep off the glass.”
While a coach heaping praise on an opponent is not uncommon, I thought Painter’s comments were interesting and insightful, after the improvement of Rutgers was showcased in primetime in the big city the past few days. In addition, our friends at SB Nation’s Purdue site, Hammer & Rails, sent the below tweet to us after the game.
Rutgers plays its balls off.— an accredited blog, apparently (@HammerAndRails) March 3, 2018
Credit where it is due, @OTB_SBNation.
Hell of an effort.
As Rutgers has now completed twelve consecutive losing seasons, there shouldn’t be much question that the program is on it’s way up under the direction of Steve Pikiell. It’s starting to feel like only a matter of time and not a question of if he will get this program back into the NCAA Tournament down the road, but rather when he will accomplish that feat.
Stay tuned for more season ending coverage of Rutgers basketball from us in the days and weeks ahead. For now, let’s appreciate the wild ride that this team just gave us the past three nights in the Big Ten Tournament.
For Dave White’s Four Thoughts, click here.
Watch Brian Fonseca and myself recap the loss to Purdue and preview what’s ahead for the future of this program.