After starting off the January portion of the Big Ten schedule with two home victories, the Scarlet Knights took the show on the road last week, facing off against Penn State on Tuesday night and Maryland on Saturday afternoon.
I don’t think any realistic fan was expecting the same lights-out shooting of the previous week - when Rutgers shot 53.4% from the field and 51.2% from behind the arc against Michigan and Nebraska. But against Penn State, the Knights seemed to revert right back to their old habits. Let’s jump into that film.
I’ve highlighted Ron Harper Jr. a lot in this column, almost always for good things, but Tuesday night was not one of his better efforts. Right from the start, RU’s exceptional ball movement and player movement from the previous week was gone, and Harper in particular seemed to be content to just stay out on the wing and settle for jumpshots. In this clip, he receives the pass from Cliff Omoruyi, holds it for 6 full seconds, then dribbles into a long, contested two-pointer.
Late in the first half, Rutgers played their best stretch of the game to tighten things up a bit before the break. This defensive possession brought back memories of the 2019-20 team.
But even as the Scarlet Knights started creeping closer, the offense still looked out of sorts and the bad habits returned. Lots of one-on-one, poor ball movement and bad spacing in these next two clips.
In the second half, the Scarlet Knights again found themselves flat-footed and slow to react on the defensive end, a problem that has plagued them several times this season. The next two clips below are from back-to-back Penn State possessions.
In this first one, the Rutgers defense gets picked apart by a pretty basic backdoor cut. Mulcahy gets beat at the top of the key, Harper shows help but bails too quickly, and Palmquist allows an easy pass over the top. Simple action, two points.
This next possession is just a total lack of effort, and reminded me of a nearly identical defensive sequence against DePaul.
I didn’t even realize it watching live, but the player who shot the three from the corner (Seth Lundy) is the same one who finished the possession with a layup. Inexcusable from a Rutgers perspective.
Saturday offered another chance to pick up a much-needed road win, and this time, Rutgers did so with an outstanding second half against Maryland. After a sluggish first half which featured 11 turnovers, RU outscored the Terps 43-21 after halftime.
First of all, let’s talk about Geo Baker, who has had his share of ups and downs this season. If you look at the final box score, it might not seem overly impressive, but I actually thought it was one of Geo’s best all-around performances.
One of the things that really stood out was his impact on the defensive end, particularly in closing out on 3-point shooters. Here are three examples from the second half where he anticipates the action and closes out effectively.
Down the stretch, Steve Pikiell called on Geo as the primary ball-handler and Geo responded with assists on three consecutive possessions to take the Rutgers lead from two to eight.
The accuracy on these three passes can’t be overstated. In each case, the shooter is catching the ball and going up in rhythm. In total, Geo finished with 7 assists and just 1 turnover in 36 minutes.
You may have noticed that two of those three plays involved a cross-court pass for a 3-pointer on the weak-side. This is something that Rutgers has been doing a lot better recently, and it was clearly an area they wanted to attack against Maryland.
Here’s Caleb McConnell making a similar feed to Ron Harper Jr. a few minutes prior.
I noted above that Penn State was not one of Harper’s better games, but he deserves a ton of credit for bouncing back and carrying the offensive load against Maryland. He’s currently shooting a lethal 64.7% (22-34) from three through 6 Big Ten games.
Upcoming Week: vs Iowa on Wednesday Jan. 19 / @Minnesota on Saturday Jan. 22