On a night that Rutgers played arguably its worst half of the season, they amazingly came from 20 points behind to have a chance to win the game on the final possession of the night. Instead, they missed three shots in the closing seconds and lost 66-65 to Penn State in heartbreaking fashion. Credit this team for showing guts and guile to even have the opportunity to win on the final play, but this was a tough loss to take. Still, this team never gave up and fought to the bitter end. No one said progress would be easy or linear though and this team will learn from how much their poor performance in the first half cost them.
First Half Summary
Both teams struggled badly on the offensive end as Penn State started 3 of 15 and Rutgers 1 of 10. Penn State led 7-4 more than seven minutes into in the first half. They missed 13 straight combined shots. Caleb McConnell attacked the rim, got fouled and made both free throws, getting the crowd back into it. That seemed to open things up, as both teams made shots on consecutive possessions after missing their previous seven. The Nittany Lions led 9-8 and the under-12 timeout.
Mike Watkins scored back to back baskets near the rim, drawing the foul both times, but he couldn’t convert either free throw attempt. A 6-0 run had Rutgers trailing 15-8 before the offense opened up a bit. A McConnell dunk made it 17-14, but Penn State extended the lead to seven points once again at the under-8 timeout. Myreon Jones made two free throws out of the break and Rutgers was down 23-14. Josh Reaves hit a three on the next possession, followed by him drawing an offensive foul on Geo Baker. Reaves hit another jumper after Mathis just missed a steal and Pikiell called a timeout in the midst of an 11-0 Penn State run. The Scarlet Knights were in serious trouble with 5:07 to play in the opening frame.
The break didn’t help as Stevens stole it and dunk it. After one free throw, Penn State was leading 31-14 after a 14-0 run. They had made 6 shots in a row. The captain Eugene Omoruyi came through with a three-point play the hard way to end it. Unfortunately, Penn State ended the half on a 6-0 run to head to the locker room leading 37-19.
It was a brutal first half for Rutgers. They shot 25% from the field and 0-10 from three-point range. The Scarlet Knights looked tired and got outworked by Penn State in every facet. The transition defense was awful and they were completely out of sync offensively. The Nittany Lions held a +3 rebounding margin, +4 turnover margin off of 7 steals, an 11-2 edge in fast break points and the bench outscored Rutgers 20-8. Omoruyi had 11 points, but Baker, Mathis and Harper Jr. were all held scoreless.
Second Half Summary
After the break, Penn State scored the first basket but Rutgers then finally woke up. A Harper Jr. dunk followed by another three-point play from Omoruyi got the RAC faithful going for the first time since early in the game. Penn State started 0-6 from the floor and a Shaq Doorson baby hook cut the lead to 13. After they traded baskets, Reaves picked up his third foul, which was a big moment with 17 minutes to play in the game.
With Penn State leading by 15 with 15 minutes remaining, Harper Jr. moved without the ball and cut hard to the basket, catching the pass from Omoruyi and slamming it home. On the opposite end of the floor, McConnell stole it and dunked it home on a fast break, forcing a Penn State timeout with 14:46 to play. Harper Jr. scored again and the lead was down to 9.
It was 50-40 out of the under-12 media timeout when Myles Dread hit a corner three to extend the lead once more. McConnell then answered with the first for Rutgers from behind the arc all night after missing the first 12 shots from deep. However, after Baker missed and Doorson couldn’t finish the follow, Bolton hit a three from the top of the arc.
The good news is that Rutgers was smart on the next possession and Omoruyi drew the 7th Penn State foul of the half, sending the Scarlet Knights into the bonus with 9:54 to play. He made both and had 18 points at this stage of the game.
After PSU was back up 13 points, McConnell made the extra pass to Harper Jr. who drained a three to cut the lead back to 10. Unfortunately, they struggled to get over the hump, as McConnell made a poor pass and Dread scored in transition.
With Rutgers trailing 60-48 and seven minutes remaining, Omoruyi was taken down on a hook and hold by Dread, which was a huge play. It was the 10th foul of the half for Penn State. Rutgers was set to take two free throws on every foul the rest of way. Plus the infraction by Dread led to two shots and the ball for Rutgers. Gene made both and was 8 of 9 from the line at this point. Myles Johnson then slammed it home after Peter Kiss tipped it to him off an offensive rebound. After Rutegrs stopped PSU on the next possession, Harper Jr. buried a three and all of a sudden it was 60-55. The Nittany Lions hadn’t scored in almost three minutes.
Soon after, Omoruyi scored off a great pass from Johnson, forcing a Penn State timeout as they clung to a 61-58 lead with 4:01 to play. The Nittany Lions were without a field goal in over 4 minutes. At 63-60, Reaves hit a dagger from the corner from behind the arc, built McConnell answered to make it a one possession game once again.
Out of the timeout, Baker missed a three but Johnson tipped it in to make it a one point game with 1:30 to play. After a Penn State turnover, Rutgers had the ball with a minute to play and the chance to take the lead for the first time since being up 2-0 at the start of the game. Instead, a Baker missed three, a McConnell miss and Johnson having his shot blocked by Reaves ended the game with Penn State the victors at 66-65. Johnson had a chance to shoot earlier in the possession, but passed outside instead, which might have been their best chance to score on the final play.
The Game Changed When
With Rutgers trailing 60-48, Omoruyi picked up a huge foul that was a technical on Penn State. He made both free throws and it set off a game changing 7-0 run.
It Was Over When
When Reaves blocked Johnson’s shot and the buzzer sounded.
For Penn State, they had a lot of solid contributions. Lamar Stevens led with 18 points but was only 8 of 24 from the field as Rutgers played him tough. He did add 5 rebounds and 3 steals. Josh Reaves was outstanding on the defensive end and finished with 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals, including the game saving play in the final seconds.
For Rutgers, Omoruyi was clearly hobbled by that left knee but let it all hang out, leading the way with 23 points on 7 of 14 shooting and 9 of 11 from the foul line. He added 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal in 34 gutty minutes.
Penn State shot 39% from the floor but were a surprising 41% from three-point range, making 7 of 17 in the game. Rutgers shot just 38% and were just 4 of 24 from behind the arc.
They were even on the boards at 45 apiece, while Penn State held a slight 15-12 edge in second chance points. After getting dominated inside in the first half, Rutgers ended up holding a 38-26 advantage with points in the paint on the night.
PSU got more from its bench holding a 32-24 edge.
Rutgers was in the bonus with a lot of time to play in the second half, but couldn’t take advantage by getting to the line as much as they needed to. They made 11 of 16 attempts.
Other Rutgers Contributions
Ron Harper Jr. was held scoreless in the first half but was a catalyst for the comeback in the second frame. He finished with 14 points on 6 of 9 shooting, as well as 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
Myles Johnson had a double-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. He made some big plays down the stretch, but came up short on a few possessions as well. Those mistakes will be corrected with more experience and he reminded Rutgers fans that he has a bright future as well.
Caleb McConnell had a great second half and finished with 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting, including 2 of 2 from behind the arc. He added 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.
Senior Shaq Doorson had 2 points and 5 rebounds in his last game at the RAC. He deserved a better outcome tonight.
Geo Baker was held scoreless on 0-10 from the field and 0-7 from three-point range. He did end up with a +/- of 1 though, producing 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists, as well as good defense. Still, it’s painful to realize Rutgers lost by 1 point on a night Baker scored zero.
What We Learned
This team is still developing and going to be maddeningly inconsistent at times. They looked a step slow in the first half and was one of the rare instances they weren’t the tougher team on the floor. Perhaps the emotions of senior night and the last home game affected them too much so. Of course, they proved they could be the team we think they are in the second half and came ever so close to pulling off a massive comeback. It’s a bitter pill to swallow in the last home game of the season. Still, this team has so much young talent and plays with an edge we haven’t seen in a long time. It’s still a disappointing loss, but they will learn from this game like they have other stomach punch defeats this season. The losses to Illinois, Iowa and Penn State shouldn’t be looked at as what if’s, but rather painful lessons this young team will learn from in the long run.
Rutgers heads back on the road to face Indiana this Sunday at noon ET in the regular season finale. The Hoosiers play Illinois on Thursday night and then the two teams trade with Rutgers and Penn State on Sunday. All four teams are battling for what appears to be 9th through 12th place in the regular season Big Ten standings. They can still finish better than the bottom four with a win at Indiana. More to come before Sunday.
For Dave White’s four thoughts click here.