There was a lot of tension early as the injury bug continued to ravage the Scarlet Knights. Not only was Cliff Omoruyi still out with a sprained knee, but Rutgers’ leading scorer Ron Harper Jr. had a sprained ankle that would force him to miss the game. Not to worry, though, as Rutgers came out hot and hit a barrage of threes. They withstood a second half run by Purdue to win 81-76. They now are 7-1 and 3-1 in conference.
Montez Mathis Steps Up: Who would take over in Harper’s absence? It wasn’t Geo Baker—who was fantastic himself with 19 points and a key steal when things looked bleak. But instead it was Montez Mathis, who has upped his offensive game a mile this season. Mathis scored a career high 25 points, including 5 for 5 from 3 point land. Mathis made key shot after key shot, and even thought he was crazy good from three, he knew when to attack the basket. Mathis lived up to the ranking that made him such a hot recruit back when head coach Steve Pikiell chased him. This was a vintage performance—the true next man up step for Rutgers.
Defense Needs to Be Better: I’m writing this before Steve Pikiell’s press conference, so I don’t know exactly what he’s going to say, but I’m sure he’s not going to be happy about this defensive performance. It never felt like the Scarlet Knights could get a stop on the Boilermakers when they needed it. Purdue shot 78.9% from the line, attacking the basket and getting foul calls at will. Yes, some where tickey tack, but they attacked the rim. Rutgers did a good job defending the three, forcing the Boilermakers to shoot 7 for 26. But Matt Painter is an excellent coach, and he knew that depth down the middle was rough without Omoruyi. Purdue shot nearly 50% overall. That’s not the kind of lockdown defense Steve Pikiell wants.
Depth Stepped Up: Without Omoruyi and Harper Jr., the Scarlet Knights went deep, way deeper than they did against Ohio State. Mamadou Doucore played a solid game behind Myles Johnson. Dean Reiber came in and was a team best plus 14 in the game, meaning Rutgers scored more than they gave up in the game. Mawot Mag got back in, returning from and injury. And Oskar Palmquist was impressive, mucking it up with Purdue and hitting a key three early in the game. This was a developmental moment for them and can only help to payoff down the line.
Iowa Up Next: So, Rutgers takes care of business, with a huge game coming up on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights survived a back and forth second half to do what they were supposed to do, and now they go against a team they have had some epic battles with during the Pikiell era. Luke Garza is coming to town, and hopefully Rutgers is at full strength for this game. It remains to be seen, but tonight was impressive. This is what happens when you have an upperclass team. Jacob Young battled injury. Geo Baker got his groove back and Mathis was unconscious. The juniors and seniors Rutgers have is not something I’ve seen in my time as a fan. Now it’s time to lay in on the line. Every game is big, but this is one that has been circled on the calendar for a while.