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Rutgers Men’s Basketball: Execution struggles continue during Paul Mulcahy’s absence

The Scarlet Knights continue to struggle without their point guard.

NCAA Basketball: Massachusetts Lowell at Rutgers John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers has been without Paul Mulcahy for four games now — going 2-2 during that stretch.

After a loss to Miami on Wednesday night, a game in which the Scarlet Knights had an 11-point lead in the second half, it is clear that the loss has impacted the team in many ways.

Rutgers built a double-digit lead in the second half in Miami before collapsing over the final 13 minutes. In that time, Rutgers finished 3-for-19 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Against Temple, it was the opposite.

The Scarlet Knights got off to a slow start against the Owls at Mohegan Sun Arena earlier in the season and could not get back on track completely. This was the first game without Mulcahy, who played just nine minutes in the victory against UMass-Lowell.

After the loss on Wednesday night, head coach Steve Pikiell gave an update on Mulcahy’s injury.

“It’s called a stinger, that’s what it’s called,” Pikiell said. “When his arm feels better, he’ll be back on the floor, but right now that’s not where it is. He’s got to practice full contact before he can do anything, and he hasn’t done that yet.”

In his absence, Derek Simpson started a couple games at the top of the offense. Since Caleb McConnell returned, Simpson returned to the bench and Cam Spencer was responsible for the point guard duties. Both are a bit concerning, rotation wise.

“I like the guys who came off the bench, they gave us great lift,” Pikiell said. “Our bench gave us a huge lift in the first half, they gave us momentum, and did a good job too in the second half. We’re just a couple plays short, that’s what we were, but our effort was top shelf. We shared the ball, we did a lot of good things. It didn’t show up in the end, but they made a few more lays than us. Obviously, Paul would help in a few more areas.”

Simpson is still getting his feet wet. As a freshman, he has struggled shooting the ball at times and has turned it over frequently. This is not to say that he will not turn things around. Quite the opposite. Simpson is a player that the team should feel good about for years to come. He has shown great athleticism and will continue to improve as he learns from Mulcahy. Simpson taking the reins next season is positive.

In the same breath, Spencer is better off the ball. The duo of Spencer and Mulcahy in the backcourt adds a great dynamic to the perimeter. Mulcahy is as good of a passer as there is in the Big Ten while Spencer has shown he can score the ball.

With Caleb McConnell back in the mix, the team looks completely different. Now, the rotation waits for Mulcahy to return to solidify on both ends.

Losing two games early is always difficult to endure — especially with Indiana waiting for Saturday. It is not cray to say that Rutgers is 7-0 if Mulcahy played in both of those games. Of course, that will never be known and at the end of the day, they were two non-conference losses.

The good news is that when Mulcahy returns, the team will look completely different. We have yet to see Mulcahy and McConnell on the floor together this season. This means good things are ahead for the Scarlet Knights.

“Paul’s terrific, so you miss him in a lot of ways, but there’s no excuse,” Pikiell said. “We had chances, we’re good enough to win. Hopefully we’ll get them back soon. When you lose the best assist guy in the Big Ten, it’s not easy to replace him.”