Improvements on defense prove not enough in Rutgers’ loss
Entering Tuesday night’s Big Ten clash against a wounded Michigan squad at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, Rutgers men’s basketball head coach Eddie Jordan stressed the importance of regaining the team’s defensive form.
After allowing a season-high 89 points on the road against Minnesota, the Scarlet Knights did just that, holding the Wolverines to 54 points on 34.7 percent shooting.
But back-to-back 3-point shots by Michigan jump started a six point stretch in the final five minutes from which Rutgers could not recover from.
For Jordan, the final five minutes resembled the same defensive mistakes his side made against the Gophers, tarnishing an otherwise strong defensive display.
“They made shots but I was disappointed that they drove to the basket,” Jordan said. “It happened at Minnesota. So we have to guard the rim better than that, we have to guard the ball better than that.”
The Knights’ offense may have let themselves down in the final moments but their offensive struggles played its part.
Averaging just over 70 points per game since its memorable win against Wisconsin, Rutgers scored 50 or less points for the first time since January 8 at Nebraska—the fourth time they’ve accomplished this feat this season.
Part of the struggles came from Michigan’s mixture of a 2-3 and 3-2 zone, forcing Rutgers to patiently pass around the basketball for large chunks of the shot clock, resulting in tough shot attempts.
The Knights’ inability to hit the 3-point shot made it even more difficult to stretch the zone, shooting 5-17 from beyond the arc.
But Rutgers felt the shots were there, it just didn’t make the shots it needed to win.
“No not really,” said senior forward Kadeem Jack on if the zone troubled them. “Coach put a lot of things in during practice and we tried to run those things and I think we executed most of it.”
Another explanation for Rutgers’ poor offensive showing can be explained from the lack of depth on the roster.
One day after saying his goal was to give Myles Mack more rest, Jordan played the star senior guard all but one minute. Jack, who finished second on the team with 13 points, played the entire game.
Jordan said it was the pair’s impact on the game that played a large role in the amount of minutes each logged, but the lack of depth for the Knights was once again badly exposed.
Aside from freshman D.J. Foreman, who scored 5 points in 22 minutes, Rutgers’ bench struggled to impact the game and had zero points to the Wolverines’ 14 at halftime while mostly rotating only three players in.
Michigan, meanwhile, ran an 11-man rotation at times and finished with 19 points coming from its bench players with Rutgers ending with seven points from its rotation guys.
In a game of slim margins, depth proved to be a major difference.
“[Michigan head coach John Beilein] has established his program,” Jordan said of the difference in depth. “He’s been there, he’s got a nice recruiting base and … hopefully, in a couple years, we’re going to be that deep and that talented.”
With a near sold-out arena at the RAC which mirrored the atmosphere during Rutgers’ magical upset of No. 4 Wisconsin just 10 days ago, Rutgers fans hoped to be witnessing another piece of history with the wounded Wolverines paying a visit.
It was Michigan’s first game at Rutgers since 1933 where it defeated the Knights, 32-22, with the Wolverines holding a 5-0 series advantage.
But with Michigan’s star guard Caris LeVert ruled out for the season with a foot injury and given the magnitude of the losses to the Wolverines over the decades, a chance for Rutgers to beat its Ann Arbor foes was on the table.
Even odds makers were believed the Knights could pull it off: after all, this was the same team that lost to fellow New Jersey team N.J.I.T. at home, and that was with a healthy LeVert.
Instead, the Knights fell at home and to 2-5 in conference play, extending their three-game losing streak and making the heroics against Wisconsin feel like a distant memory.
Despite Rutgers’ and the crowd’s best efforts, it was simply another one that got away.
“It’s kind of sickening I mean how hard we worked in the gym yesterday with the tension that was in the gym with Eddie putting pressure on us,” Daniels said. “… And we had missed opportunities and didn’t get it done.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.