Rutgers vs. No. 4 Michigan State: 3 Observations
For the second time this season, the Rutgers men's basketball team took the floor against a top ranked Michigan State squad and for the second time this season, the Scarlet Knights gave the Spartans an upset scare.
A little over a month after giving then No. 2 Michigan State all it could handle at the Rutgers Athletic Center, Rutgers took the Spartans to overtime, but would come up just short, dropping a 76-72 thriller in East Lansing.
Here are three observation on what would have been one of the biggest upsets in college basketball this year and the best win for the program in recent memory.
It was a stellar defensive effort by Rutgers
There's no knocking the defense by the Knights, as they completely stifled the Spartans after being jumped to start the game and falling behind, 14-2. Sophomore Eugene Omoruyi put forth arguably his best game of his career on that end of the floor, drawing numerous charges and creating a presence down low, despite being undersized for his position at 6 foot 6 inches.
Michigan State led the nation with its 52.5 field goal percentage going into Wednesday night's contest. But Tom Izzo's squad shot just 41.2 percent from the field and were held to a season-low 59 points in regulation. Rutgers was also able to limit star forward Miles Bridges to no points in the first half and a 3 of 10 mark from the field.
This level of play should be the expectation going forward
On Wednesday night, the Knights proved that their win over Seton Hall wasn't a one-time thing. They proved that they can play their best basketball on more than one occasion. The losses to Stony Brook and Hartford were examples of how the team struggles to consistently play "Rutgers Basketball" but when the Knights play like they did against Michigan State, it shows that they have taken a real step forward.
It wasn't a fluke where one player just couldn't miss or the team caught fire at the right time. Rutgers played at the level of Michigan State for nearly 45 minutes and put to rest the notion that they can't play well on the road. Gone are the days of blowout losses, as the Knights should be competitive in every single game they play going forward.
Steve Pikiell coached his second straight masterpiece
Five days after out-dueling Wisconsin's Greg Gard at the Rutgers Athletic Center, Pikiell went head to head with Izzo, a Basketball Hall of Famer who is one of the best coaches in the country. When playing a much more talented group on the road and going down 14-2 to start the game, it is very easy for a team to roll over and give up. But Pikiell kept the morale of his team up and led them to a stellar comeback effort that saw them leading the No. 4 team in the country with under 10 seconds left.
With fifth-year senior forward and captain Deshawn Freeman battling illness and having seemingly his entire frontcourt in foul trouble (four players fouled out of the game), Pikiell was able to pull all the right strings and keep Rutgers in the game for as long as it was. Despite coming up short in the end, he could not have done more as a coach and the Knights were just one play away from pulling off one of the most shocking upsets in school history.