Wow. We were down 19, out of the game, the season on the brink of collapse, and somehow, we won. Thoughts.
Derek Simpson: What an incredible performance by the true freshman. One of the knocks on this Rutgers team is that they don’t have many people that can create their own shot. While Paul is a great distributor for others, he rarely creates for himself. But Derek Simpson gets the ball looking to score. The Scarlet Knights needed that last night. He had 16 points and sparked the comeback against PSU. At times it felt like I was watching Geo Baker again yesterday. He wears the 0 well.
Great Bench Minutes: It wasn't just Simpson who gave Rutgers huge minutes off the bench. Antwone Woolfolk and Oskar Palmquist were awesome as well. The former held his own defensively when coming in for Cliff last night, and had an awesome breakaway steal that was taken away by a ticky-tacky call by the refs. Palmquist had six points as he drained two big threes. Without those makes, Rutgers doesn't win this game. It’s so impressive to see a guy who had gone month-long stretches without seeing the floor this season step up to become a solid contributor when called upon.
Locked In on Defense: While the defense left much to be desired through the first 12 minutes of the game. Down 26-9 with 7:56 left to play in the first, not only was Rutgers not hitting shots, it looked like they were going to give up 90 points. Soon after though, the Scarlet Knights clamped down on PSU. Giving up just 5 points in the final 8 minutes of the half, they had cut the Penn State lead to 10. Penn State scored just 25 points in the second half and didn't make a field goal in the final nine minutes of the game. Caleb McConnell took away Jalen Pickett late in the game and didn’t allow him to take over as he so often does. Pickett scored just 11 points, well below the 26.5 he’s averaged over his past six games.
Consistency on Offense: If Rutgers is going to go far in March, they’re going to need to be more consistent, particularly on the offensive side. Paul Mulcahy is going to need to be more of a factor, and the whole team needs to be more assertive on offense. Derek Simpson did a good job of looking for his own shot last night, and Cam Spencer sometimes does as well. Distributing is great, but Paul needs to get back to backing down smaller defenders, and Cliff needs to be more aggressive down low. You can’t win games if you don’t put the ball in the basket enough times, so there needs to be a bigger emphasis on aggression offensively.
Bonus Thought: With Rutgers still developing “Post-Mag”, one idea would be to place Mulcahy at the high post in the halfcourt offense. Letting Simspon and Spencer play the 1 and 2 guards respectively, and having McConnell or Hyatt on the wing. This will let Mulcahy fill Mag’s role in the offense with a little bit more of a distributing emphasis, while still playing dynamic scoring threats at the guard spots. At 6’7 we’ve seen Mulcahy play around the free throw line before, particularly when we face zone defenses. He’s been pretty successful in that role in the past, and in my opinion, there’s no reason to not give it a try again.
Rutgers likely locked up an NCAA tournament spot last night, but avoiding a Q3 loss at Minnesota is extremely important nonetheless. Rutgers should roll over the Golden Gophers and go into a game with Northwestern with double-bye implications. Take care of business on Thursday.