On Saturday, Rutgers men’s basketball entered the second half trailing Maryland 38-27. Plagued by 11 first half turnovers and having committed 12 fouls, the Scarlet Knights went to the locker room on the brink of getting blown out on the road once again. And then RU came out of the break more focused and disciplined, which resulted in a 70-59 win over Maryland.
RU dominated the second half, outscoring Maryland 43-21 behind 50% shooting overall and holding the home team to just 25% from the floor. Defending without fouling, committing fewer turnovers and sharing the basketball led to big shots made. Ron Harper Jr. was magnificent with career high 31 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including another career high of six three-pointers on eight attempts, 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
“We played really hard in the first half,” head coach Steve Pikiell said in the postgame press conference. “We fouled too much and you can’t defend the free throw line. We had too many turnovers. They had 18 points off of our turnovers and 13 points off of free throws. They had seven points when we played good defense. So I told them to stop turning it over and stop fouling and we did that. That’s what happened at halftime. I liked out effort and our energy.”
Rutgers was finally able to close out an all-important road win in Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights are now 10-6 on the season and 4-2 in league action. The win over the Terps is categorized as a Quad 2 victory, bringing RU to 4-4 combined against Q1/Q2 opponents this season.
Here are some newsworthy tidbits and notes for this team.
- Ron Harper Jr. is now shooting a ridiculous 64.7% from behind the arc (22 of 34) through six Big Ten games and 47.0% for the season. In Rutgers’ four Big Ten wins, Harper Jr. is averaging 27.5 points on 61.4% shooting and 70.3% from three (19 of 27). In two conference losses, Harper Jr. is averaging just 6 points per game on 16.7% shooting and 42.9% from three (3 of 7). He’s actually 0 of 11 from two-point range in those defeats. He has been more feast than famine so far in Big Ten play, but its been either extreme in every game. His importance to the success of this team cannot be understated.
- Paul Mulcahy had an interesting game stats wise in struggling with a strength and then stepping up in other ways. He committed a season high 7 turnovers while dishing out only 3 assists, his fewest in six games. However, after playing poorly in the first half and limited to just 8 minutes because of it, Mulcahy helped set the tone for the comeback with his assertiveness in the second half. He finished with 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting, including 2 of 2 on what were both timely threes, 6 rebounds and 2 steals. After Mulcahy led Rutgers at 39.3% last season, the best mark from behind the arc since Omari Greer shot 40.7%, he was only shooting 28.6% entering the Maryland game. If he can develop some confidence in his shot from deep and be a more consistent three-point threat, it would be a key development for this team.
- Cliff Omoruyi had 10 rebounds and has now grabbed double digit boards in three of his last four Big Ten games, as well as four of five games overall. He’s also blocked multiple shots in three of his last four conference games after only have one contest in which he did that previously all season. A major key has been staying on the floor, as Omoruyi has played 30+ minutes in three of his last four games. His growth defensively and ability to defend inside without fouling has been a key part of his development.
- Rutgers produced a defensive efficiency rating against Maryland of 88.5, which is their lowest against high major opponent this season. They are now 6th in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency and are in the top five in league action for the following categories: steal rate (3rd), three-point shooting percentage (4th), free throw rate (4th), block rate (5th), turnover rate (5th) and effective field goal percentage (5th). For the the season, RU is now 53rd nationally in defensive efficiency and its clear they are improving on that end of the floor. If that continues, it gives hope that RU can win its fair share of Big ten games.
- The Scarlet Knights lead the Big Ten in shooting 44.2% from three-point range. They have shot at least 41% from three in five of six Big Ten games and won four of them. RU is now shooting 34.2% from behind the arc overall, which is 133rd nationally. The last time the program shot better than that was the 2012-2013 team, who shot 35.7% from deep. The best Rutgers has shot from three in the Pikiell era was 31.2% twice.
- On the flipside, only one Big Ten opponent has shot better than 33% from three against Rutgers and that was Illinois, who went 12 of 33 for 36.4%. Defending the arc can involve some luck, but there is no doubting that RU is closing out on shooters far better than they did to start the season.
This is a crucial week ahead for Rutgers and if they can take advantage of the opportunity in front of them, they would move closer to legitimate contender for the NCAA Tournament. They host Iowa on Wednesday and travel to Minnesota on Saturday. Both are classified as Quad 1 opponents currently, so victories over them would provide a major boost for their resume and NET ranking (currently No. 122 before Maryland win).
“I love it,” Pikiell said. “People keep doubting this group. It’s good. We just keep grinding. These guys are good, they’re tough and they want to win. It’s just a tough league to win in.”
Rutgers looks to build off of this win with an even bigger one against a Top 25 team in Iowa at Jersey Mike’s Arena on January 19.