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Steve Pikiell credits backcourt duo following win over Purdue

The Scarlet Knights have leaders in the backcourt to rely on.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The key to any program is carryover and consistency rom year to year.

That is what Steve Pikiell has been able to create at Rutgers. When Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker moved on, it was time for Paul Mulcahy to step up. The Scarlet Knights did not lose anyone in the transfer portal but added an important piece in Cam Spencer. With Mulcahy and Spencer taking over in the backcourt, Rutgers was ready to attack the season.

On the biggest stage and during the best win of the year to this point in college basketball, both guys stepped up and received great praise from their coach.

“We’ve been good defensively all year and these guys played really well in a tough, tough environment, but Purdue was excellent,” Steve Pikiell said during his postgame press conference. “We knew they were going to score some points. And again, we can never defend the foul line. So, we took a hit there and in the backboards. And that’s really where they got majority of their points I felt.”

Mulcahy missed some time early with an injury. It is clear that the team is different with him on the floor. He is averaging 8.0 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.2 rebounds this season. Mulcahy gives Rutgers a guard who can handle the ball and make the right decisions — like on the game-winning possession Monday.

Once Purdue took the lead on a Fletcher Loyer three, it was clear where the ball was going to go. Mulcahy was having a big night and decided to take the ball into the post, where he was finding great success. Instead of forcing a shot, Mulcahy found Spencer on the perimeter, who threw up a pump fake followed by what would be the game-winner from beyond the arc.

“He’s been terrific,” Pikiell said of his point guard. “He’s had a terrific career, quite honestly. And then he’s another kid, he’s in grad school right now. Graduated early. He’s a leader. Even down the stretch he wanted the ball. He makes good decisions. He has six assists and zero turnovers in this kind of environment with eight rebounds and four steals, so he did everything. He’s a stat stuffer anyways, and he’s a winner and he showed all those things tonight.”

Spencer has made an immediate impact since transferring to Rutgers. He is shooting 43.8% from three-point range while scoring 12.9 per night. What has been impressive is Spencer’s ability on the defensive end of the floor. He currently leads the Big Ten with 2.6 steals per night.

“He played well the entire game and he’s a guy who’s in the gym all the time,” Pikiell said. “He’s in the film room, the guys on the team respect him and he’s not just a shooter. He leads the league in steals in an unbelievable league and his assist to turnover ratio. He does a lot for us, but he’s bought great chemistry. The guys love him.”

Rutgers will be back in action on Thursday night as Kevin Willard and Maryland come to town. The Scarlet Knights will look to continue their strong start in conference play.

“Three games into it, it’s the best league in the country,” Pikiell said. “So we’ve got Maryland next obviously, played some good teams and I think we’re good right. But it’s a long, long season to worry about that you know down the road. We’ll enjoy today, we’ll get ready for a really good Maryland team. We have a bunch of ranked teams coming up. It’s never gets easy in this league.”