Rutgers moves on to NJIT matchup Tuesday night following Michigan State loss
After playing increasingly tougher opponents in Florida State, then-No. 12 Minnesota and No. 3 Michigan State, the Rutgers men's basketball team will get a little bit of a reprieve Thursday night.
But coming off of three consecutive losses, the last thing the Scarlet Knights (6-3, 0-2) need is to get complacent against another New Jersey squad like New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), as the Highlanders (5-3) make their way to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Nov. 7.
Just two days out from a back-and-forth loss to the Spartans, Rutgers will need to reach back and find the same energy it had when it got out to an 8-0 lead against the third best team in the country Tuesday night.
As the team learned quickly against Central Connecticut State earlier this season, there really is no opportunity to underestimate competition for the Knights, especially coming out of the loss to Michigan State.
"It's a lesson for us and that's a great team," said sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi. "They're ranked No. 3 in the country, so I think we just made a few mistakes that we need to change for next game."
Even taking it until the final minutes against a team like Michigan State, Rutgers did not play its best brand of basketball, especially on the offensive end. The team as a whole shot 25.8 percent from the field, with the upperclassmen duo of junior guard Corey Sanders and fifth-year senior forward Deshawn Freeman combining for a 5-of-25 clip (20 percent).
Instead, it was up to underclassmen like Omoruyi and freshman guard Geo Baker to pick up the pieces. Neither player had a particularly efficient game, but each worked the offense in their own way.
Baker led the offense for much of the game and had 11 points to go along with that, twice capping off runs with jump shots to get the Knights back into the game.
"I've definitely seen it progress," Baker said about his play over the last few games. "I think I'm getting more comfortable out there playing against better competition. I'm just being patient more, finding the right spots and finding the right guys on offense."
Omoruyi was an important figure off the bench, leaving much of his game in the post and finding mid-range jumpers when he could, putting up 11 points of his own.
Rutgers stood its ground on defense, holding the third best team in the country to a 38.6 shooting percentage. Its crutch was being unable to stop Miles Bridges in any facet of the game, as the forward recorded 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting from downtown.
"I thought on the defensive end we certainly did some good things," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "We were even on the backboards. ... But we've got to continue the climb. It's a process."
Fortunately for the Knights, they are likely to not face that kind of production against NJIT come Tuesday. The Highlanders' highest scorer this season, forward Anthony Tarke, averages 11.8 points per game, and his season-high of 18 points was against UMass Lowell — a bit of a drop from Bridges scoring 21 against Rutgers.
NJIT, like most teams the Knights will face this season, beats them out from 3-point range. The Highlanders shoot the 3-ball at a 36.8-percent clip, with three players — Chris Jenkins, Diandre Wilson and Zach Cooks — hitting from beyond the arc at over 40 percent.
That is something Rutgers will have to shut down in order to keep the game as uncompetitive as possible, something it failed to do against the Spartans Tuesday night, who went 8-of-21 from 3.
For the most part though, the Knights have done well in that department, even if they haven't necessarily knocked down too many 3s of their own. Rutgers has held opponents to a 30-percent mark on 3-pointers so far this season.
And defensively as a whole, the team has been sound. Though the Knights won't pat themselves on the back for keeping the Spartans at bay Tuesday night, there is one authority in that area who will give Rutgers its due credit.
"I love the way these kids play," said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. "They play hard. I love Freeman, he plays hard. The freshman Geo Baker is going to be good. I liked Eugene Omoruyi. I liked their effort and Steve's doing a good job."
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