Rutgers handled another home game, this time against Purdue, 70-63.
Four Quick Thoughts Before Bed:
Free Throws Won the Game: Rutgers got the benefit of the home whistle in this one and thank God they did. They didn’t score a field goal in the last 6 plus minutes of the game as the Boilermakers attempted a furious rally. But Caleb McConnell and Ron Harper Jr were able to get the line and knock down their free shots to keep the opposition at bay. McConnell was especially impressive tonight, with a complete game—including 12-12 from the line. Look, you could complain that Rutgers missed a number of free throws and it shouldn’t have even gotten to this point, but you have to realize at this point: It is what it is. Rutgers is not a great free throw shooting team and it’s not going to miraculously change mid-season. However, they do have good free throw shooters and those players have to get to the line. They did tonight.
The First Half Was a Clinic: Backed by an ornery crowd, Rutgers sliced and diced Purdue in the first half. They smothered them with incredible defense and made good shots to build a sizable lead. Purdue looked—at one point—like they didn’t know what hit them. Rutgers had such a balanced scoring sheet that at several points in the game every player on the court had an assist. That was Rutgers basketball in a nutshell and by playing so well in the first half, it saved them in the second.
Geo Baker Clutch: Baker continues to show off the clutch gene. Today it was gathering a loose ball and shaking Noel Eastern—one of the best defensive players in the conference—off to swish a desperation three. That sent the crowd into a tizzy. The junior is clearly still working his way back into peak form, but when he’s needed to make a key shot, he almost always does it. Rutgers is in the Top 25 and Geo has been a key building block.
16-5 and 7-3: Who would have thought it? I don’t think it’s a question at this point: Rutgers is good. There are still some hills to climb, starting with a tough Michigan team on a neutral court. There’s a lot of season left and anything can happen. But at this point, right now, with 4 days off, sit back and enjoy this. Rutgers is guaranteed to finish at least .500 even if they lost out at this point. But that’s not the goal anymore. The goal is the NCAA Tournament. Wow. What a fun year. I can’t stop saying it.