In a game that was there for the taking down the stretch, Rutgers fell short at the RAC in a loss to Northwestern (11-7; 2-5). The Scarlet Knights created a matchup problem with their athleticism in transition and by attacking the rim against the big lineup of the Wildcats, but they didn’t exploit that advantage early enough in the game. The difference in the game was free throw shooting and two big three-pointers from Ryan Taylor in the closing minutes, as Rutgers suffered a frustrating defeat at home. They tried to pull a late comeback against Northwestern at home for the second straight season, but it didn’t h
First Half Summary
Rutgers came out hot and jumped out to a 7-0 lead behind a balanced offensive effort. Shaq Carter’s second basket of the game gave them a 9-3 lead at the first media timeout. However, Northwestern regrouped and went on a 17-6 run to establish a 20-15 lead with just under eight minutes to play in the half. Dererk Pardon starting to take control of the game and led all scorers in the opening frame with 12 points on 6 of 6 shooting. Rutgers made just one field goal in the final five minutes of the first half and went to the locker room trailing 33-26.
Northwestern shot 54% from the floor and made 5 of 12 from three-point range. Rutgers shot 43% from the field and made just 3 of 9 from behind the arc. Shaq Carter led the way with 9 points on 4 of 4 shooting. The Scarlet Knights held a 9-0 edge in fast break points, but needed to get out on the break more than they were at this point in the game. Northwestern was sagging into the paint on defense in the halfcourt, which forced Rutgers to settle for too many jump shots. Overall, it was mostly a disappointing and flat performance after a strong start out of the gate for Rutgers.
Second Half Summary
Out of the break, both teams came out sluggish with the score 37-29 five minutes into the second half until Issa Thiam caught the ball on the wing and made a three-pointer in rhythm to get the RAC faithful back into the game. Rutgers cut the lead to 1 point after two Ron Harper Jr. free throws, but soon after he was called for a foul, which was the team’s seventh of the second half. That put Northwestern in the bonus with 12:52 remaining, which spelled potential trouble ahead despite the Wildcats being mired in a 1 of 8 shooting slump, but Rutgers felling into a two-plus minute scoring drought of their own. Anthony Gaines made a statement dunk on an offensive rebound off of a miss in transition to put Northwestern back in front 41-36 with 12:19 left in the game.
Things took a turn when Geo Baker, who struggled to get much going all night, attacked the rim with a drive in the paint and took a big body blow, forcing his shot to miss the rim. Amazingly, no foul was called and Northwerstern made a dagger three-pointer in transition to extend the lead to 47-37. Steve Pikiell was livid with the refs and called a timeout to regroup his team.
The good news was Rutgers was soon in the bonus also and Baker made both free throw attempts to cut the lead to six points with just over eight minutes to play. Out of a media timeout and trailing 49-41, Rutgers finally came alive. Montez Mathis sparked an 8-0 run as he and Baker each had transition layups on back to back steals and the game was tied with just under five minutes to play after another Mathis drive. The RAC was rocking.
Shaq Doorson came up big down the stretch by playing great defense on Pardon and grabbing two key offensive rebounds. He made 1 of 2 free throws to cut the lead to 51-50 before Northwestern’s Ryan Taylor made a big three in the corner. Baker answered with a basket on the next Rutgers possession and trailed 54-52. However, Taylor made another three soon after, followed by eight consecutivefree throws down the stretch to give the Wildcats a 65-57 victory.
The Game Changed When
Rutgers trailed by 8 points with eight minutes to play and came out of the media timeout on a mission to get back into the game. Mathis and Baker had back to back steals and transition layups to bring the RAC faithful on their feet and force a Northwerstern timeout. The game was tied soon after when Mathis attacked the rim, made the basket and was fouled. He couldn’t convert the free throw, but the game was tied at 49, setting the stage for a battle down the stretch.
It Was Over When
Taykor’s second three-pointer down the stretch pushed the lead to 59-52 with just over two minutes to play which was too much of a deficit for Rutgers to overcome. Northwestern also made all 8 free throw attempts in the closing minutes of the game.
Northwestern and Rutgers were even in several stats in this game: shooting (NW 40% RU 39%), rebounds (34 each) and turnovers (NW 14 RU 13). However, Northwestern shot 41% from three-point range on 9 of 22 from deep, while Rutgers made just 4 of 17 for 24%.
Rutgers missed the front end of a 1 and 1 four times in the second half and made just 15 of 25 from the free throw line in the game for 60%. That was a big difference in the game, as Northwestern made 14 of 17 for 82%.
The Scarlet Knights dominated in fast break points (22-7), points off of turnovers (20-9), and points in the paint (28-16), but they simply didn’t exploit these advantages nearly enough in the game, especially the first half.
Dererk Pardon scored a game high 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting, but Rutgers held him without a field goal in the second half. He also grabbed 7 rebounds. Ryan Taylor made 4 of 9 three-point attempts for 14 points. No other Wildcats scored in double figures.
Montez Mathis came alive in the second half to lead Rutgers with 16 points on 5 of 10 shooting and 6 of 10 from the free throw line. He caused fits for the Northwestern defense by attacking the rim, but wasn’t aggressive enough early in the game. Rutgers needs to make Mathis the focal point of the offense moving forward, as he has been the best player on the team the past five games. He added 4 rebounds and 2 steals. The positive is the freshman continues to improve and is getting better by the day. His defense is improving as well, as witnessed on this play.
Notable Rutgers Stats
Geo Baker has 12 points, 4 assists and 2 steals, but was just 4 of 14 from the field. He did have just 1 turnover, but he needs to focus on getting the ball in the hands of Mathis and Shaq Carter, who started the game strong and after 4 of 4 shooting in the first half, but was just 0 for 2 in the second half. He finished with 9 points and 10 rebounds, but Rutgers needed to get him more involved after halftime than they did. Part of that was the emphasis in transition, but they still didn’t look for him enough in the halfcourt offense.
What We Learned
It was a frustrating loss for Rutgers. Statistically, they outplayed Northwestern in several key categories. They were the more athletic team but they didn’t focus on outrunning the Wildcats and attacking the basket early enough in the game. Perimeter defense continued to remain an issue as Taylor saw too many open looks as did his teammates. This was a game that Rutgers really needed at home after a rough road trip, making this loss all the more disappointing. They continue to have poor shot selection at times in the halfcourt and 13 turnovers is not winning basketball. Instead of jumping ahead of Northwestern in the Big Ten standings, they remain with just one win and are only ahead of Penn State through seven games. Hopefully leading scorer and rebounder Eugene Omoruyi returns from his kneecap injury sooner rather than later, as he was sorely missed in this game.
Rutgers (8-9; 1-6) has another two day break before playing its third game in seven days against Nebraska (13-5; 3-4) at the RAC on Monday night. The Cornhuskers lost to #6 Michigan State at home by 6 points on Thursday, so they’ll come to the RAC hungry for a victory.