After two painful losses over the past nine days, the first against Ohio State on a non-call that should have negated the Buckeyes’s game-winning buzzer-beater, and the second against in-state rival Seton Hall where Rutgers couldn’t hit a layup and only mustered 43 total points, the Knights left no doubt at a sold-out Jersey Mikes Arena this Saturday afternoon.
1st Half Action
Rutgers started quick, scoring their first bucket on a Caleb McConnell steal and dunk off the opening tip and would open the game on an 11-4 run. Wake would counter however. Their electric star point guard Tyree Appleby powered through an injured ankle to run the Wake offense and keep the Demon Deacons within striking distance. With the help of a hot start by 3-point sharpshooter Damari Monsanto, the Deacs would pull within 18-15 at the 12:30 mark of the first half.
A dunk by Clifford Omoruyi and jumpers by Paul Mulcahy and Mawot Mag would push the Knights’s lead back up to seven but Wake’s Monsanto would hit another 3-pointer to pull the Demon Deacs within 24-20 at the 9:10 mark. Rutgers would counterpunch with a 12-0 run that included three-pointers by Derek Simpson and Aundre Hyatt and two fast-break buckets by defensive stalwart Caleb McConnell to push their lead to 16 points.
Wake was not done however, going on their own mini-run and outscoring Rutgers 13-7 over the final five minutes of the half, giving the Deacons a glimmer of hope as the teams headed to their respective locker-rooms with Rutgers holding a 43-33 advantage.
Unlike the prior game against a big, physical Seton Hall team that kept Rutgers out of the paint and muscled the Knights off the ball, the Knights were able to impose their will on the Demon Deacons. The 43 points in the first half matched Rutgers’s total output last game against the Pirates.
7 turnovers forced in the first 7 minutes of play. https://t.co/muodv7MC1F— Rutgers Men’s Basketball (@RutgersMBB) December 17, 2022
Wake shot 55 % in the first half, including 6 of 9 on 3-pointers. The problem for Wake was Rutgers was hotter, shooting an even more impressive 59% on 17-29 shooting.
2nd Half Action
Like the first half, Rutgers came out firing on all cylinders, opening on a 12-2 run that doubled their lead to 20 points. Wake would counter with their own 12-2 run to pull within ten points, 57-47, at the 13:23 mark.
Caleb McConnell would quickly seize momentum back for the Knights, hitting a 3-pointer to start an 18-5 run and 75-52 commanding lead that would squash any thoughts of a Wake comeback. As is the norm under a coach Pike team, the Knights defense clamped down in the 2nd half, holding the Demon Deacons to a paltry 29% shooting (8 for 28).
Following another dunk by Big Cliff and a couple made free throws by Mulcahy, Jalen Miller would punctuate the afternoon on a beautiful move to the basket and add the Knight’s 80th and 81st points. Final score: Rutgers 81, Wake Forest 57.
Caleb McConnell on guarding Tyree Appleby
“I mean, it was all part of the game plan, really, especially a guard like that, man. He’s been giving guys – he’s been giving teams a lot of problems. Especially getting downhill and making shots and really just running the whole team and throwing cross-court passes. The kid is good and he’s probably one of the best guards in the country. He kind of controls that team. So I really just want to just take him out of his game and really just kind of frustrate him and just smother him. I feel like as a team, we did an awesome job. Our bigs – I want to salute to my bigs, because my bigs did an awesome job on every ball screen coverage. They were up to touch, we were doubling them and just getting the ball out his hands. He’s an awesome guard, they’ve got an awesome coach and their play style is really good and it fits him. Just coming in, I just really just wanted to frustrate him. That’s it.” (Courtesy Rutgers Athletics)
That's a BIG GUARD. https://t.co/GbAfVhnQO0— Rutgers Men’s Basketball (@RutgersMBB) December 17, 2022
- The Scarlet Knights scored 26 points off 22 Wake Forest turnovers, including 14 steals.
- Rutgers got out in the fast break and Wake didn’t, with the Knights outscoring the Deacons 20-8 in fast-break points.
- And most impressive, Rutgers completely dominated the paint, outscoring Wake 44-16 for the game and 20-4 in the 2nd half.
- The Scarlet Knights earned their first-ever win against the Demon Deacons. RU’s shooting percentage (58.5 percent) is the highest against a Power 5 opponent in the Steve Pikiell-era dating back to 2016.
- The one concern coming into this game was if Rutgers could contain electric point guard Tyler Appleby, Damari Monsanto, and a very dangerous sharpshooting team from behind the arc. Appleby, who was averaging 19 points per game coming in, was removed with four fouls at the 12-minute mark and never returned, finishing with a stat line of 10 points and 2 assists. He was obviously slowed down with the ankle injury but credit Rutgers’s relentless defense for making his afternoon mostly miserable.
- Speaking of defense, Rutgers continues to perform at an elite level, no matter the level of competition. The Knights are currently the No. 3 ranked team in the nation in adjusted defense per KenPom. While fans may rightfully worry about where the points are going to come from on offense, this D has yet to take a game off. Credit to coach Pike and this staff for building a consistent identity the team can hang their hats on.
- Caleb McConnell. He was a thorn in the side of Wake players all game and continues to be a joy to watch in an age where defense, steals, and diving for loose balls is frequently an afterthought. When he can add 13 points on an efficient 5 of 11 shooting like he did today, this team is very difficult to beat.
- Mulcahy needed to show something today after an abysmal performance against Seton Hall. Mulcahy made it a point to penetrate the defense, limit errant passes and turnovers, and get the ball down low to Cliff and the playmakers.
- Spencer also needed to show something and he did - playing confidently, moving with purpose, taking the open shot, and scoring 15 points in only 20 minutes of play on a perfect 5-5 shooting.
.@B1GMBBall players in last 10 seasons to shoot 100% on FG, 3PT & FT (min. 5 FGA, 2 3 PT & 2 FTA) in a game:@D_Bo20, 11/16/15@theprophet_5, 2/10/16@JWieskamp21, 1/20/19@aldurham01, 11/5/19@caleb_mcco, 1/3/20@EA_Glo, 11/25/20— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 17, 2022
Cam Spencer, 12/17/22#B1Gstats x @RutgersMBB pic.twitter.com/2ruhA0YkGA
- Led Wake Forest with 22 points on 7-15 shooting, including 6 3-pointers
The Knights shared the basketball with five players scoring in double figures:
- Cam Spencer had a nice bounce-back game, finishing with a team-high 15 points and looking quick in movement and confident with his open looks
- Big Cliff just missed another double-double, netting 14 points and pulling down 9 rebounds
- Caleb McConnell added 13 points along with 2 blocks and 3 steals on defense
- Like Spencer, Mulcahy also had a nice bounce-back game, scoring 10 points and most importantly, leading the team with 7 assists and 3 steals. That’s the type of stat line one expects from a quality point guard.
- Aundre Hyatt added 10 points and 6 rebounds but was a shaky 2 of 7 on 3-pointers
- Derek Simpson logged quality minutes, scoring 7 points in 26 minutes and tallying a block and steal
- Mawot Mag added 8 points and 2 steals
The Knights have six days off before hosting Bucknell on Friday (5 p.m., Big Ten Network), the second-to-last non-conference game. The Scarlet Knights will then play Coppin State at Jersey Mike’s Arena on Dec. 30 before playing at Purdue on Jan. 2.