Rutgers battles on the road, but falls 56-51 to number 9 Maryland.
Rutgers Made It Their Kind of Game: That was a meat grinder and kind of beautiful if you’re a Rutgers fan. The defense was fantastic and the Scarlet Knights did just about everything that wanted to. Their D was the best it’s been since the Minnesota game and bodes well for the rest of the season. Again, on the road, Rutgers was right there. They just need one to get over the hump. It is nearly impossible to win on the road in the Big Ten as usual, but Rutgers played to their tempo. That’s the positive. The wheels aren’t falling off—not yet, anyway. Rutgers is still playing its game, but the schedule remains tough down the road. At times tonight, Rutgers defense had the Terrapins on their heels. The Scarlet Knights needs to find four more wins and cannot lose to Northwestern on Sunday.
Geo Baker Needs to Figure It Out: It was telling that Baker was not on the court during the final minute or two with Rutgers down only two points. He played, but did not look for his shot much during the game and the shots he did take were way off. He also had trouble containing Anthony Cowan on defense. Baker hasn’t been himself since coming back from the injury. This is the time when a captain takes over and puts a team on his back. Akwasi Yeboah is trying. Geo Baker needs to join him. He is a streaky player and the kind that can get hot, but he needs to figure out what’s been ailing him and quick. Montez Mathis outplayed him tonight, particularly on defense and was needed when Cowan started to get hot.
Endgame Execution Was Lacking: Rutgers couldn’t not make the right plays at the end of the game when they were down but only a shot or two away. Caleb McConnell took a few ill-advised shots, either trying to draw a foul by running into Jalen Smith or taking a three too early in the clock instead of pulling it out. There was also a bad pass down the stretch that went out of bounds. Steve Pikiell had one more time out and I would have taken it and set up a play when the Scarlet Knights were going for the tie. Jacob Young’s explosiveness would have helped here too, if he wasn’t sitting out a suspension. Instead, it didn’t happen, Maryland made their free throws and c’est la vie. Rutgers loses again.
Northwestern Looms Large: I mentioned this earlier in the post, but the Wildcats are the last real roadblock for Rutgers. They cannot lose this game. The problem is, Northwestern plays a lot like Rutgers did in their first two years under Steve Pikiell. They defend. They take leads and they hang around. They haven’t been able to get over the hump and get wins, but the Scarlet Knights can’t take them lightly. There are five days until that game is played—a 6:30 Sunday night tip. It’s a chance to take some time and right the ship. Practice, get Geo right and continue getting Ron Harper, Jr. better. And then win the game running away. It’s not time to panic about the season yet, but lose on Sunday and all bets are off. Pressure’s on now.