Balanced attack allows Rutgers to close
The Rutgers men’s basketball team did not enter last night’s game on a six-game losing streak because it could not compete with the teams it faced.
The Scarlet Knights faced a halftime deficit more than two points only twice during the span.
Their issue was closing out games.
The Knights solved their problem, at least for one game, in last night’s 57-55 win against Seton Hall.
The Pirates took over the roll Rutgers had played its previous six games, sitting only five points back at halftime.
But their 36.7 shooting percentage could not keep them close enough to complete a comeback.
Instead, the Knights pulled away, showing they can close out a game for the first time in nearly a month.
“[Getting a win] is most important right now,” said head coach Mike Rice. “What we were doing is part of the formula. It’s what we want to do.”
But Rutgers’ success came in a different fashion last night than in their last six opponents.
In each of the Knights’ last six contests, they saw one player on the other team take over the game and seal the win for his team.
Rutgers, on the other hand, had a much more balanced effort.
While no player scored more than 14 points, the Knights had four players score at least seven points and 10 total players record a basket.
“That’s what this team has to be,” Rice said. “What you have to do is put your head down and make something happen. I thought we did that.”
Sophomore guard Eli Carter, Rutgers’ leading scorer — and shot taker — helped contribute to that balance, though he most likely did not intend to do so.
Carter, who entered the game averaging 12.8 shots per game, ended with only eight field goal attempts.
That came courtesy of two early fouls, which limited him to only five first-half minutes and one first-half shot.
Seton Hall could not claim the same support Rutgers had. Forwards Brandon Mobley, Fuquan Edwin and Eugene Teague scored 40 of the Pirates’ 55 points and took more than half of the team’s shots.
With both teams near the bottom of the conference in scoring and middle-of-the-pack in field goal percentage, it became a game of who made the least mistakes.
Rutgers won in that regard.
While the Knights committed their fair share of mistakes — they totaled 12 turnovers — the Pirates could not convert them into baskets, scoring just five points off Rutgers giveaways.
Rutgers found much more success in that department.
It forced 14 Seton Hall turnovers and generated 13 points off of them, something it had been struggling with during its six-game losing streak.
But a late run almost made those differences obsolete, as the Pirates pulled to within one shot with 24 seconds left.
“Me and my teammates were joking earlier. We feel like in the last two minutes at the RAC, [opponents] shoot 100 percent,” said senior forward Austin Johnson. “They always seem to make three-pointers or long-distance shots.”
On a layup with 9:33 remaining in the game, senior wing Dane Miller became the 39th player in program history to score 1,000 points for his career.
He ended with seven points last night, including his first three-pointer since a Jan. 5 win against Pittsburgh.
But he did not realize he had hit the milestone immediately.
“I didn’t know I got it until the guy at the [scorer’s] table said ‘Congratulations,’” Miller said. “[Even then,] I still didn’t know what he was talking about.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.