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Michigan’s Hot Start Sinks Rutgers In 77-65 Loss

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The Scarlet Knights made it a battle in the second half, but couldn’t dig themselves out of a early hole.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It was a sold out RAC on Tuesday night with no. 7 Michigan in town and all the elements were there for another classic on the banks. Instead, the Wolverines got off to an incredibly hot start and Rutgers was slow to match their offensive efficiency and defensive intensity. To their credit, the Scarlet Knights fought hard the rest of the way and cut the lead to single digits with less than two minutes to play. However, the early hole was too much to overcome as Rutgers lost to Michigan by the final score of 77-65.

First Half Summary

It was a disastrous start for Rutgers, as Michigan was perfect on offense in the first five minutes of the game. The defensive intensity wasn’t where it needed to be and the Wolverines showcased superior ball movement. They started the game 5 of 5 from the field, including 2 of 2 from three-point range and 3 of 3 from the chartiy stripe. Rutgers was in a 15-6 hole forcing head coach Steve Pikiell to call a timeout.

It didn’t get any better as Rutgers was buried in a 27-10 hole just over 8 minutes into the game. Michigan was still shooting over 70% at this point. Finally, Rutgers seemed to catch its breath and it was an even 11-11 run over the next few minutes. With the Scarlet Knights trailing 38-21 with just over four minutes left in the opening frame. The RAC faithful finally had something to cheer about as Rutgers went on a 8-0 run, capped by Geo Baker’s first basket of the game, a deep three-pointer at the top of the key. The Wolverines fought back and went to the half leading 43-31.

Michigan shot 59% from the floor and 6 of 10 from three-point range. Rutgers shot pretty well against the nation’s most efficient defense, shooting 47% from the field. While they held a -3 rebounding margin, they did have a 22-18 edge with points in the paint. Myles Johnson and Eugene Omoruyi led the way with 8 points each.

Second Half Summary

Rutgers started the second half on a 10-5 run and the RAC was hopping with the score 48-41 and over 15 minutes left in the game. Michigan responded with a mini 5-0 run to gain separation. The Scarlet Knights continued to battle and cut the deficit to 58-48 with 8 minutes to play before Brazdeikis hit an open three at the top of the key.

Every time Rutgers was knocking on the door, Michigan hit a big shot to slam it shut. Still RU was hanging around down 63-53 with 6:30 to play. Then it was Brazdeikis once again from deep, but the captain, Eugene Omoruyi, answered on the next possession with a three-pointer of his own.

Geo Baker made a pair of free throws to push the score to 66-58, but Michigan’s Jordan Pool extended lead back to 10 with just over three minutes to play. Omoruyi made two free throws to cut it back to 8 as the RAC faithful were very loud. After a defensive stand, Baker was called for a push off for the offensive foul.

It was a back and forth battle for most of the second half, but unfortunately Rutgers was in too big of a hole from the first half to truly threaten for the lead. Despite it being in single digits with less than two minutes to play, Michigan closed it out for a 77-65 victory.

The Game Changed When

Rutgers came out at halftime and started on a 10-5 run to trail by just 7 points with 15 minutes to play. They set the tone that Michigan wasn’t going to easily run away from them in the second half.

It Was Over When

Rutgers trailed 68-60 with the ball and less than two minutes to play. Mathis got the basketball in traffic 10 feet from the rim, but instead of shooting he dribbled it and was blocked. Michigan never let them get fcloser the rest of the way.

Game Balls

For Michigan, Ignas Brazdeikis was sensational. He finished with a game high 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting and 5 of 9 from three-point range. Ignas also added 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. Zavier Simpson did a great job running the Michigan offense and had a solid line of 14 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds.

For Rutgers, Eugene Omoruyi showed up in a big way. He had a team high 21 points on 8 of 17 from the floor while adding 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Omoruyi was fearless once again, did a good job posting up in the paint and getting to the rim. He seemed to run out of gas the last five minutes and missed too many shots near the rim. Overall he has been tremendous since returning from his knee injury and gives Rutgers so much in every aspect of the game.

Key Stats

Michigan shot 45% from the floor, including 11 of 23 for 48% from three-point range. They were also a solid 14 of 17 from the free throw line. Rutgers shot 41% from the field and 5 of 12 from behind the arc. It was also a solid showing from the charity stripe, making 12 of 16.

Rutgers owned a 36-24 advantage with points in the paint, was +3 on the boards and +3 on second chance points.

Michigan took care of the basketball well once again, only committing 7 turnovers, while Rutgers did a much better in this area, only giving it away just 9 times. Rutgers also had a 10-4 edge in points off of turnovers.

Other Rutgers Contributors

Mathis started slow but looked more like himself than he had in the past couple of games. He finished with 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting, while adding a team high 5 assists to just 1 turnover, as well as grabbing 3 boards.

Shaq Doorson gave a great effort, scoring 8 points on 4 of 4 shooting and grabbing 6 rebounds, as well as blocking 2 shots. Johnson scored all 8 of his points in the first half, but was shut off in the second half.

Geo Baker scored 8 points but struggled shooting wise, making just 1 of 9 from the field. He played hard and led the team with 8 rebounds, while adding 3 assists.

What We Learned

This Rutgers team has guts. They were dead and buried trailing 27-10 with 30+ minutes to play. It was an unfortunate start and a lesson learned for such an inexperienced team. It was a combination of Michigan starting the game unconscious shooting wise and a lower intensity level than was needed from Rutgers against such a quality opponent. That being said, the Scarlet Knights showed a lot of character continuing to fight the rest of the way and making it a game in the second half. They played much better defense down the stretch and forced Michigan to work for every basket and holding them to 32.3% from the floor after the break. Ultimately, Rutgers couldn’t execute well enough down the stretch to seriously threaten for the lead, but it’s hard not to love the effort and fight this team has exhibited of late. Michigan is a national title contender and despite an awful start, Rutgers gave a gritty second half effort that forced the visitors to earn a hard fought victory in the final minutes.

What’s Next

Rutgers hits the road, as they have five of their last eight conference regular season games away from the RAC. They’ll take on Illinois, who upset no. 9 Michigan State at home on Tuesday night 79-74. The Illini are playing its best basketball of the season and will be a difficult test for Rutgers, who look for just its third road win in Big Ten play in four plus seasons.

BOX SCORE

For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.