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Rutgers’ Win Over Indiana Emphasizes Return to Defensive Identity | Schocket

Scarlet Knights must return to the ways they found success in Pikiell’s early years.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers played big brother to the Hoosiers last night, trouncing Indiana for the 9th time in 11 meetings and earning their first Big Ten win of the year. Moreover, the Scarlet Knights won this game with old-school Steve Pikiell basketball. RU shot just 32% from the floor and 23% from beyond the arc, but they rebounded well, were active on the defensive end, and showed the toughness Rutgers fans have become accustomed to seeing over recent years.

At the start of the season, there were talks about this being the best offense Pikiell has had at Rutgers, and that this team could score north of 80 points a game. Well, 15 games into the campaign, we can now conclude that this is not the case. Noah Fernandes has been inconsistent, Gavin Griffiths has struggled mightily, and the Scarlet Knights are still prone to the cold stretches that have plagued them seemingly every game for the past decade.

Instead, Mawot Mag looks like the team's best player, Jamichael Davis has shown huge flashes, and Austin Williams looks like the gritty guard that this team needs to succeed. It’s time to lean on the defense and beat teams in the low-scoring slugfests that the RAC (I’m not sure I’ll ever call it Jersey Mike’s Arena) is made for.

Last season, Rutgers held four Big Ten teams to 50 points or less in games. That’s Rutgers basketball. Some fans may never accept that Steve Pikiell’s system isn’t one built to look pretty, run up scores, and have the high-flying offense of Iowa or Gonzaga, but the reality is that Pikiell has won plenty of games at Rutgers by being great defensively, strong on the boards, and playing tough.

Last night was the 3rd straight game that Rutgers had the edge on the boards, in an increasingly encouraging sight after some of the horrendous rebounding performances early in the season. A big part of that against Indiana in particular was the work of the Scarlet Knight’s backcourt. Guards Austin Williams and Jamichael Davis grabbed 6 rebounds a piece and combined for 4 offensive boards.

Additionally, Rutgers forced 18 Indiana turnovers last night, a result of their strong defensive effort that led to the win. This is something that we need to see more of going forward if the Knights want to pick off some of the conference's best teams and steal a few road wins as a potential tournament bid nears. Post-defense was also strong last night, with Cliff Omoruyi posting a monster 5 blocks. Cliff has drawn criticism for his lack of offensive production this season, but his defense has been stellar and was key against the Hoosiers.

It’s true that the Scarlet Knights need to make more of their shots, Rutgers can’t shoot 9-21 on layups and 32% from the field overall and expect to win a lot of games in the Big Ten, but the focus needs to be on locking down the defense and letting that flow into their offense. Transition layups off of steals, strong breakouts after good defensive rebounds, and out-toughing other teams are the keys to the rest of the season. Even when Pike was just starting at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights had that identity, and it’s part of what built the program into what it is today.

It’s high time to return to Rutgers basketball.