After a second consecutive 8 day span between games to conclude non-conference play, Rutgers hosted Division II Caldwell at the RAC on Monday night. Steve Pikiell’s team came out focused and took care of business, routing Caldwell 94-49.
The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 9-3 early lead before Caldwell’s Anthony Cooper knocked down a three to cut the deficit to just 1 point heading into the first TV timeout. Coming out of the huddle, head coach Steve Pikiell inserted freshman point guard Paul Mulcahy into the game and he scored a layup on the first possession. The game changed from there, as Mulcahy and Jacob Young combined for 26 points on 11 of 11 shooting in the first half. The rest of the team shot 4 of 20 from the floor and 16 points in the opening frame. The Scarlet Knights led 42-23 at halftime.
Rutgers held Caldwell to just 30% shooting and 3 of 9 from three-point range. They also dominated the boards as expected, holding a +11 rebounding margin at the break, as well as a 22-6 edge with points in the paint.
Coming out of the half, the Scarlet Knights extended the lead to 60-32 behind the bench play of Young and Shaq Carter, who combined for 9 points on 4 baskets over a two minute stretch. At the under-8 timeout of the second half, Rutgers led 72-40 behind 59% shooting after the break.
Jacob Young played his best game in Scarlet by a College Avenue mile, scoring a game high points 23 points, as well as 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He shot 9 of 12 from the field and was 3 of 5 from three-point range. He was relaxed and totally in control, the exact opposite from how he has played in every other game this season. There is no denying Young has talent, but he hasn’t figured things out until this game. If this performance permanently shifts Young’s mindset and he plays to his potential the rest of the season, I’ll officially retract my complain in my preview that this game had no value.
Paul Mulcahy had a brilliant first half and certainly gained some confidence from this performance. He was quiet after the break, not scoring on just 1 shot attempt, but he finished the game with 5 rebounds and 5 assists to go along with 14 points. His +/- rating of +36 was the best of any player in the game. His development is key in how far Rutgers can go this season and he is being relied on much more so heading back into Big Ten play.
Three others scored in double digits, as Akwasi Yeboah had 11 points on 3 of 3 shooting from three, Montez Mathis scored 11 points and made 3 of 3 FT’s, while Ron Harper Jr. scored 10 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and was a perfect 4 of 4 FT’s.
The walk-on’s had some good moments in the final minutes of play, as Joey Downes scored 6 points on two shots from behind the arc, Luke Nathan had 2 points and 4 rebounds, while Nick Brooks scored a basket as well.
As a team, Rutgers shot 52% from the floor, while holding Caldwell to just 29%. RU made the most shots from three-point range as in any game this season so far, connecting on 10 of 23 attempts for 43%. They also held Caldwell to just 4 of 16 for 25%. Rutgers dominated inside, both with a 49-31 advantage on the glass, as well as a 46-16 edge with points in the paint.
The two most important things that needed to happen did. Rutgers won in convincing fashion and the team seemingly escaped the game avoiding any significant injuries. Pikiell did mention in his postgame radio interview that Geo Baker (2 points on 1 of 7 shooting, 2 assists) didn’t return early in the second half after getting knicked up. It didn’t seem serious and was wise to hold him out. Even so, seeing him ice his hand on the bench wasn’t enjoyable, especially in a game like this.
Up next, Rutgers (10-3; 1-1) resumes Big Ten play this Friday night on the road at Nebraska (6-7: 1-1). It’s a tremendous opportunity to pickup a league road win and start 2-1 in conference play. Other than playing competitively at Michigan State for most of the game, the Scarlet Knights have played poorly away from the RAC this season. However, despite the Cornhuskers struggles this season, they beat Purdue (8-5; 1-1) in its Big Ten home opener 70-56. It’s a game Rutgers has to win if they want to build a postseason resume, whether it be NIT or the NCAA Tournament, but it certainly won’t be easy. Hopefully, Monday night’s performance got this team back in game rhythm and ready for Friday night.