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Underdogs: Thoughts on the 70-65 Big Ten Tournament Loss vs. Purdue

Fought hard, came up just short.

Rutgers hung tough, but it wasn’t enough to beat a team like Purdue. A valiant effort nonetheless. Thoughts:

Kept It Close: Rutgers today looked like the Rutgers we know. Even after beating Michigan, the Knights weren’t a lock for the NCAA tournament. They couldn’t go out there and lay a goose egg against the Boilermakers today, and the Scarlet Knights came through. A five-point neutral court loss to a high Quad 1 opponent should be enough to keep Rutgers in the field barring any unexpected madness. There’s no doubt though that, come Sunday, Rutgers fans will be nervous wrecks.

8 vs 5: I don’t often blame the refereeing for a loss, but today they were on another level. In the first half, the foul discrepancy was 11-4, and virtually every Rutgers starter had two fouls at the break. Then, with about right minutes left in the game, the officials managed to call four fouls on Rutgers in the span of 14 seconds. I didn’t even know that was possible. This sent Cliff to the bench with four, and foul trouble in general affected the Scarlet Knight’s defense down the stretch. Rutgers had three starters with four fouls, along with Caleb McConnell who fouled out down the stretch on another questionable call. On the other side, Zach Edey gets away with almost everything. I get that he’s 7’4”, but that doesn’t mean he’s not fouling guys. It’s hard enough to beat Purdue, it’s a whole different animal playing eight on five.

Derek Simpson: The freshman guard was the difference in today’s game. The Scarlet Knight's offense went as he did. Without him on the floor, the offense is more stagnant, there’s much less ball movement, and ultimately less scoring. Having him on the ball allowed Mulcahy to get back to his game, and he turned in his best performance in a while. Simpson played well for most of the game, igniting the offense, and scoring a career-high 18 points, but the freshman also wilted late, missing his last 5 shots from the field. Had he been able to make his transition layups late in the game, Rutgers might’ve moved on to the semifinals.

Bench Going Forward: The Big Ten Tournament has provided some hope for depth heading into a possible NCAA tournament run. Antwone Woolfolk gave the best minutes of his young career over the last two days. His first-half run against Michigan was great, and today against Purdue he held his own for the most part against Zach Edey. He grabbed multiple offensive rebounds and had an impressive putback. Palmquist is playing physically even when he’s not scoring, and even Jalen Miller found himself in the scoring column today. Hyatt wasn’t a big factor today, but he made a big impact as the sixth man before Mag went down. These guys are gonna be the X-factor to a run in the tournament. Who’s going to step up down the stretch?