Two terms that you usually do not hear together — defend home court and defense travels.
Both were true for the Scarlet Knights on Saturday afternoon.
With chants of “R-U” strong for 40 minutes, Rutgers held Michigan State to 34.5% shooting during a defensive-oriented 61-55 win at Madison Square Garden, a designated home game for the Scarlet Knights.
This victory will count as a Quad 2 win after the NCAA shared that it would count as a home game for Rutgers, rather than a Quad 1 win if it was a neutral-site game. Regardless, the Scarlet Knights move to 8-4 in the conference and now hold a two-game lead over the Spartans.
Rutgers takes another step toward qualifying for a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The gauntlet continues with Indiana and Illinois on the schedule this week. What we do know is that the Scarlet Knights will end the day in second place in the conference. Whether it is alone or tied depends on the outcome of Iowa-Illinois on Saturday afternoon.
The fans that made the trip to the World’s Most Famous Arena expected a defensive struggle. It exceeded all expectations. There was a combined nine points in the first five minutes. Over the first 15 minutes, Michigan State mustered just 14 points. The only problem, Rutgers had 15 of their own.
The Scarlet Knights took some time to get going. They finished 37.5% from the field and 3-for-16 from beyond the arc.
The Spartans finished the first half on a 13-4 run to take a six-point lead. They forced a turnover and were able to get a layup at the buzzer to carry momentum into the locker room. In the first half, Mawot Mag left with what looked like a knee injury and was unable to return.
Michigan State extended the lead to eight with 16:20 remaining before Rutgers went on an 8-0 run to tie it up. From that point, the back-and-forth action continued as the Spartans built a new five-point lead.
Rutgers was not able to take control until Caleb McConnell, who finished with nine points, knocked down a three to put Rutgers ahead for the first time since midway through the first half. The Scarlet Knights went on a 13-2 run to take the lead with under five minutes left. Paul Mulcahy took over in the second half, scoring all 17 of his points, including five in a row to build a seven-point lead.
Rutgers missed 12 free throws in the contest but hit 11 of their last 14 to secure the win. Cliff Omoruyi finished with 15 point and 12 rebounds.
The Scarlet Knights will be back in action on Tuesday night for a big-time matchup at Assembly Hall against Indiana. Defense will have to travel once again if Rutgers wants to earn its second victory of the year against the Hoosiers.
Rutgers continues to build its resume and prove that it is one of the top teams in the Big Ten this year.