Rutgers can’t win on the road. We’ve heard it over and over. They needed one to get back on the bubble. Well, today they sauntered into Wisconsin and knocked off another ranked team.
The Core: Ron Harper, Jr. is going to get all the plaudits as he dropped 21—including three threes and was 6-7 from the free throw line. Harper was good today and made shots when he needed. Geo Baker paced Rutgers in the first half, finishing with 16 points—with 2 threes. Cliff Omoruyi had some huge dunks and a huge pair of free throws (huge, just like Cliff) in the second half. He had 10 points and 8 big, big boards. But the key, the player who is taking over was Paul Mulcahy. Mulcahy again drove the bus, dishing out 5 dimes. But when the Scarlet Knights went cold and Wisconsin tried to make a run, the junior point guard would not let them. He scored 18 big time points. The three was falling, the floater was falling and the free throw line was key. What a performance by those four. But we need a separate thought for someone else.
Caleb McConnell did his job: Wow, did Caleb ball today. He tied up Johnny Davis and made him work for everything. Davis finished with only 11 points and each time he tried to take over offensively, and get rolling, McConnell got in his grill. Rutgers mixed defenses, with a zone look, a press and their core man-to-man. McConnell had six steals against a team that only averages 8.3 turnovers a game. McConnell wants to be Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year? He deserves it.
They Survived: The referees did not call the game the way Rutgers would have wanted it called, particularly in the first half. That’s not to say the refs weren’t calling fouls, but they called a lot of touch fouls which took away Rutgers ability to be physical. The Scarlet Knights were in foul trouble the entire afternoon to the point where Steve Pikiell had to go offense/defense with Jalen Miller and Baker (who was saddled with four fouls). But, in a game that would usually destroy Rutgers on the road, this team instead persevered. They overcame the fouls and adjusted. They completely flummoxed Wisconsin and came away with another big win.
No More Questioning Pikiell’s Status: Steve Pikiell is very quickly becoming the best coach Rutgers has ever had, only sitting behind the legendary Tom Young. We can continue to lay out his resume, but he added even more history to that CV—three consecutive ranked team wins, including a win in a notoriously tough place to play. Rutgers had never won at Wisconsin, but found a way today. Pikiell has built a team full of grinders who learned how to win and know are able to do. Are there things to be critical of with Pikiell and this team? Of course. Basketball is an imperfect game, as Geo Baker likes to say. But for the loud minority who has called for his head on message boards and in the comments section (and who undoubtedly will be silent today)? Enough. Pikiell is going to be here as long as he wants, and he deserves to be. What a fun season this continues to be. Enjoy each and every wacky moment on the roller coaster that is college basketball.
Another ranked opportunity coming up on Wednesday, as Illinois comes to the RAC (fine, JMA) in a blackout game.
Let’s go Rutgers.