On a night Rutgers needed to extend its undefeated home record on the season in order to keep pace with the top half of the Big Ten, they fell short once again against Michigan, who are now 13-0 all-time against the Scarlet Knights. Without star Isaiah Livers and struggling from three-point range, the Wolverines delivered a strong defensive performance that shut down the RU offense in the second half. It was a disappointing night in front of a another sellout crowd, as Rutgers (18-9; 9-7) lost to Michigan (17-9; 8-7) for the second time this season, this time by the final score of 60-52.
A 4-0 start from Rutgers was followed by Michigan making six consecutive shots to jump out to a 16-8 lead seven minutes into the game. The Scarlet Knights got back into the game with what they do best. Akwasi Yeboah scored off an offensive rebound, followed by Jacob Young dunking it home in transition off a steal.
After a Franz Wagner three-point play the hard way, Rutgers got the RAC faithful on their feet off of a 10-2 run to take the lead 22-21. Geo Baker was feeling it and made a key three, as well as a drive and dunk to bring RU back into the game. Jon Teske responded with a three-pointer to give Michigan back the lead, but they then fell into a three plus minute scoreless drought. A Paul Mulcahy basket knifing through traffic in the paint tied the game at 24.
With the score tied at 28, Baker had the ball at the top of the key with the game clock running down. He dribbled to his left and knocked down a monster three-pointer as the clock expired to send Rutgers to the locker room with a 3 point lead. The Scarlet Knights, after trailing by as much as 8 points in the opening frame, ended the half on a 19-9 run.
Michigan started the game 2 of 3 from behind the arc, but finished the half just 1 of 10 from deep. RU was an efficient 3 of 8 from three-point range, while both teams shot 48% overall from the field in the first half. Rutgers was +2 on the boards and held a +2 turnover margin. Zavier Simpson was a problem, as he had 12 points in the opening frame on 5 of 7 shooting. Baker equaled his effort, also scoring 12 points off of 5 of 7 shooting.
Out of halftime, Rutgers got a stop on Michigan’s first possession and then on its own trip down the floor, Harper Jr. made a sharp pass into Yeboah in traffic. He scored the basket, but missed the free throw. However, Brandon Johns Jr., who torched RU for 20 points in the first meeting, went to the bench with 3 fouls and zero points.
After another defensive stop, Michigan stayed in the zone and Baker took a patented step back jumper and drained it. Yeboah then stole it from Teske and Harper Jr. drove and drew the foul. He made both free throws and Rutgers led 37-28 less than three minutes into the second half as they were on a 9-0 run going back to the end of the first half.
Seldom used Colin Castelton converted a three-point play to end the run, followed by a Wagner tip-in on a miss in transition. It was a four point game at the first media timeout of the second half. Rutgers had missed four shots in a row over a two minute drought.
Castelton continued to give Michigan a boost as he made two free throws to cut the lead to 1 point. Jacob Young made a layup in transition, but Simpson answered on the other end. Rutgers led 41-40 at the under-12 timeout, but Simpson had just picked up his third foul of the game.
After a defensive stop, Young drove but missed in traffic. Both teams were stuggling from the floor in the second half. Michigan was 0-4 from three while RU was just 4 of 15 from the floor. They were each mired in over a three minute scoring drought before David DeJulius hit a runner to give Michigan a 42-41 lead at the midway point of the second half.
Simpson soon after drove with the shot clock winding down and found DeJulius in the corner, who knocked down a huge three-pointer. Steve Pikiell called a timeout with Rutgers trailing by 4 points with just over 9 minutes to play.
Rutgers hadn’t made a shot in over five minutes and were down 45-42 with under 8 minutes remaining and despite being +5 on the offensive glass, they had just 2 second chance points at this stage of the game. After the media timeout, Harper Jr. missed a jumper and Wagner was fouled on the other end. He made both free throws to push the Michigan lead to 5 as they were in the bonus the rest of the way.
After missing eight straight shots, RU finally made a basket on a Yeboah bank shot. The RAC faithful rose to their feet, but Wagner knocked down a three to lead by six with six to play. Following a defensive stop, Mulcahy drove and drew the fourth foul of the game on Zavier Simpson. He went to the bench with just over five minutes to play and Michigan leading 50-44.
Two free throws from Ron Harper Jr. followed two free throws from DeJulius with just over four minutes remaining. Rutgers went fullcourt pressure with Simpson out of the game and forced a turnover right away. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take advantage on the next possession, as Yeboah missed a three and the ball went out of bounds on Mulcahy. Trailing by six at the last media timeout fo the game, the Scarlet Knights desperately needed some positive momentum.
Out of the timeout, Eli Brooks knocked down a massive three-pointer with the shot clock at 1 to extend the Michigan lead to 9 points with under four minutes to play. Hope was hanging on by a thread.
Harper Jr. knocked down a 10 footer to cut the lead to 7 points with 2:48 remaining. Wagner missed a wide open three, but Baker missed on the other end. With under two minutes to play, Teske missed a three. Young had it in transition but didn’t go strong to the hoop and missed a must make.
Down 8, Baker knocked down a jumper to make it 56-50 with 1:14 left to play. Pikiell called a timeout. DeJulius was fouled and went to the line where he made 1 of 2. Baker missed a three and Brooks slammed it home on the other end as Michigan led 59-50. The final score was 60-52.
Simpson led the Wolverines with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Wagner had 12 points and 8 rebounds. David DeJulius added 10 points and made several key baskets in the second half. Also, Colin Castleton’s substitution early in the second half changed the game, finishing with a gutty 5 points and 4 rebounds.
Rutgers made just 8 of 34 shots in the second half for 23.5% from the floor. They couldn’t get anything going offensively after halftime and their energy seemed to slowly drain with each miss down the stretch. Michigan switched back and forth between man to man and a zone, which seemed to mentally drain RU as well. The size of Michigan seemed to change their shots at times and they didn’t go strong enough at the rim.
Despite holding a 14-4 advantage on the offensive glass, once again RU couldn’t finish second chance opportunities against Michigan. The teams were even 4-4 in that area. When it came down to finish near the rim, they couldn't come through.
Three-point range was a struggle for both teams, but despite Michigan only shooting 6 of 23 for 28%, they made a couple big one’s down the stretch. Rutgers on the other hand, finished just 3 of 18 for 17% and were 0 of 10 in the second half. Also from the charity stripe, Michigan doubled RU’s attempts, making 12 of 18 versus 5 of 9 for the home team.
Geo Baker was outstanding in the first half, but was just 2 of 9 in the second half. He finished with 16 points on 7 of 16 shooting, adding 4 rebounds. Coming into the game with a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, he struggled with just 1 assist and 4 turnovers. Ron Harper Jr. had 13 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists, but needed to be more assertive in the second half. Yeboah had 10 points and 5 rebounds. Paul Mulcahy had some positive moments and finished with 6 points and 6 rebounds. Jacob Young had 4 points and 5 rebounds, while causing problems at times once again for Simpson on the defensive end.
A major issue is that Rutgers got little else from the rest of the team. Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis and Caleb McConnell were all held scoreless on a combined 0 of 12 from the floor. This team is at its best when they get contributions from every player on the court and that didn’t happen tonight.
The unbeaten record at the RAC is no more. After Rutgers jumped out to a 9 point lead early in the second half, they were outscored 31-15 the rest of the way. It was a disappointing performance to say the least.
Up next, Rutgers travels to face Wisconsin on Sunday against a team they beat in December at the RAC. They desperately need a road win and this is perhaps the best opportunity remaining. The two teams play a similar, muck it up style that should produce another close game. As Andy Katz said on BTN after the game, Rutgers is still in solid position to make the NCAA Tournament. However, they really need to find a way to win on the road. Perhaps after this setback at the RAC, they’ll have a new mindset away from home in Madison this weekend. ‘