June 25, 2019 | 73° F

Rutgers loses out in close game to No. 3 Michigan State, 62-52 at home

Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

In no world did anybody expect No. 3 Michigan State and the Rutgers men's basketball team to be locked at half. There was only one conceivable way the Scarlet Knights would keep Tuesday night's game competitive, and that was by the Spartans not showing up.

Michigan State may not have played its best, but it was far from completely forgetting its game in East Lansing, yet Rutgers still more than held its own.

In a game that was decided well into the second half, the Knights (6-3, 0-2) failed to come away with a victory against the Spartans (8-1, 2-0), 62-52, Tuesday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).

It would have been one thing for Rutgers to stop its game at halftime as well.

But the Knights, led by the efficiency of true freshman guard Geo Baker, were trading leads with Michigan State midway through the second half, a feat not many teams, let alone Big Ten teams, will be able to say they've done at the end of the season.

Baker turned in another stellar night from the field, leading Rutgers with 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting while adding two assists and one steal. After starting the season struggling from mid-range and beyond the arc, the Derry, New Hampshire native hasn't shied away from strong competition in the slightest.

"My teammates kept telling me to keep shooting ... once I saw (the looks) were open, I was gonna take them," Baker said after the game.

The freshman shared point duties with junior guard Corey Sanders for much of the night, as part of a relatively undersized lineup versus Michigan State.

Even fielding a small five, the Knights still managed to stay somewhat even with the Spartans on the boards, a common theme for Rutgers so far this season.

The Knights outpaced Michigan State on offensive rebounds, 20-14, though they notoriously had a tough time converting put-backs, coming up empty-handed after three offensive boards at one point. Fortunately for Rutgers, the Spartans were just as wasteful with their second-chance points, being outscored 14-12 in that department.

Instead, Michigan State's game was almost entirely written by star forward Miles Bridges. Without Bryn Forbes to knock down 11 3-pointers against the Knights like last year, it was up to Bridges to fill the void for the Spartans. Though he cooled off in the second half, the sophomore led his side with 21 points on a 7-of-17 clip.

Bridges' strong night from the field bailed Michigan State out of poor possessions, often capping off sloppy play. Though Rutgers has made a pattern out of sloppy play against good teams so far this season, the Spartans outpaced the Knights Tuesday night in turnovers, 15-10.

As for Rutgers players, there wasn't too much to love outside of Baker's and sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi's performances — who racked up 11 points of his own. True freshman forward Mamadou Doucoure got himself in foul trouble early and saw limited minutes on the court, while Sanders failed to get much going scoring-wise, shooting at a measly 13 percent mark.

It was also an uncharacteristically off night for the captain, fifth-year senior forward Deshawn Freeman, whose 3-of-10 clip involved countless drives to the hoop that ended up thwarted by Jaren Jackson Jr., who recorded eight blocks Tuesday night for Michigan State.

It was the freshman and the sophomore in Baker and Omoruyi, respectively, who came to play against the Spartans Tuesday night, whereas the upperclassmen were almost nowhere to be found, at least offensively.

Though strong individual performances were enough in the Knights' first few games this year, those are not going to beat a team like Michigan State, or even Florida State for that matter.

Against a team like the Spartans, even just missing out on beating them is a tall task in and of itself. For a side like Rutgers — a team that could not even win a game in the Big Ten two years ago — almost defeating the third best team in the country is a hook to hang its hat on.

"We've learned a lot in these last couple of games ... we'll continue to grow," said the Knights' head coach Steve Pikiell.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, a Naismith Hall of Fame inductee, couldn't have had higher praise for Pikiell. 

He noted that Pikiell is doing a "hell of a job," and consistently turned to the effort of Rutgers as to why his team struggled.

"I just love the way his kids play," Izzo said. "I think he's doing a good job. It's going to be a good Big Ten team in the near future."

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Jon Spilletti

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