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Rutgers Basketball: Can defense keep Scarlet Knights in Big Ten race?

Early on, Rutgers has shown signs of competing for a conference title.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Many questions have been answered for Rutgers to the point of the season.

Can the Scarlet Knights make up for the losses of Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker? It seems as though the current backcourt duo is up for the task. Who is going to take the final shot in crunch time? On Monday night against Purdue, Paul Mulcahy had the ball in his hands and set up the game-winner from Cam Spencer.

Now, the final question remains, is this level of success sustainable? The short answer — with this defense, Rutgers should remain competitive in the Big Ten.

The Scarlet Knights have now defeated the Preseason Big Ten favorite Indiana and Purdue when it was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Against the Boilermakers, the defensive effort of Rutgers helped build a lead and showed that there is a certain toughness about this group.

Rutgers built a double-digit lead at halftime, holding Purdue to 24% from the field. Over the course of the game, Purdue shot just 39% and turned the ball over 13 times. This was out of character for a team that entered as one of the final undefeated teams in the nation. The Scarlet Knights forced them into poor shots and decisions over the course of the night, especially in the first half.

Rutgers came in with a plan to attack Zach Edey early on. He got into early foul trouble and was forced to sit for a majority of the first half. Purdue found itself in a 13-point hole in the second half. From this point on, it focused on getting Edey more involved and he finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Did you not expect the top team in the nation to make a run?

Despite efforts, Rutgers stayed in front most of the second half before Fletcher Loyer hit a three to put Purdue ahead with 30 seconds left — and the rest is history.

The fact that Rutgers let a 13-point lead slip away is not concerning. This game was played in the 60s, which is where Rutgers needs them to stay over the course of the season. The Scarlet Knights were able to set the tone on the road Monday and did the same earlier in the year against Indiana. The Scarlet Knights do not want to play a run-and-gun style. Instead, Rutgers wants to remain strong defensively and get other teams out of their rhythm.

As Big Ten play continues, Rutgers has solidified itself as a contender in the conference. It has two top-10 victories against elite competition. Let’s not forget that the team should be 3-0 to begin with another road victory on its resume against Ohio State.

What Rutgers is showing is that the program has found its identity. Steve Pikiell recruits his own way and brings in players that fit his system. The players have bought in on both ends and there is finally some carryover from year to year. Long story short, there is a lot to be excited about this year and for the future.