Rutgers outlasts Miami in defensive thriller in Coral Gables
The Knights nab win for conference in ACC/Big Ten Challenge
In its first road game and second biggest test of the season, the Rutgers men’s basketball team went inside Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Fla. and took care of business against Miami, leaving South Beach with a 57-54 win and a win for the Big Ten in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Unlike their first real test of the year against St. John’s earlier this month where they laid an egg, this time around the Scarlet Knights (5-1) went into halftime with a 28-24 lead and finished off the Hurricanes (5-2) in the second half, securing the upset.
“Our ultimate goal, we say it every day and I think people are maybe starting to believe it more now, is to go to the NCAA Tournament," said sophomore guard Geo Baker, according to app.com. "This was a step in the right direction.”
It took Rutgers a bit to get things going offensively, as the team found itself in an early 13-4 hole. But an 11-0 run of its own capped by a 2-point jump shot from sophomore guard Peter Kiss gave the team its first lead of the game.
Baker also picked things up after the slow start and finished the game with a team-high 16 points and six assists in a career-high 39 minutes of play.
Kiss and junior forward Eugene Omoruyi also had double-digit points, scoring 12 and 11 points each, respectively.
After scoring 90 or more points in their first two games, thanks in large part to their early 3-point shooting, the Knights have come back to Earth somewhat offensively and have relied on their defense to get the win in their past three games — holding opponents to 44.7 points per game in that three-game stretch.
“I said we’ve got to put the speed limit on them, 55 or under. And we were able to do that,” said head coach Steve Pikiell, according to app.com. “When you travel on the road you’ve got to find a way to win, and we were able to grind it out.”
Miami made things interesting, though, leading by as many as 3 points and as late in the second half as 9:02 remaining. But, Rutgers was able to settle down and make big shots when it needed to.
But down 57-54 in the final minute of regulation, the Canes had their chances to try and tie the game, but the Knights’ persistent defense made it hard for Miami to get in rhythm and get a good look. Baker even denied a 3-point attempt in the waning seconds, proving his worth all over the court.
The Canes did get a look at a potential game-tying 3 with less than 10 seconds remaining, but the shot bounced off the net and into the hands of graduate student center Shaquille Doorson, who was then promptly fouled.
Doorson missed the front end of his one-and-one to give the Canes a chance and a full-court buzzer-beater shot almost went in, rimming out and giving Rutgers its fifth win of the season and its first on the road.
“(Baker) led our defense against those outstanding guards,” Pikiell said, according to app.com. “He did a good job competing, making big shots when we needed him to … He’s a shot-blocker now. Add that to his list.”
The Knights finished the night shooting 24-59 (40.7 percent) from the field and 6-24 (25 percent) from beyond the arc. On the other hand, Rutgers held Miami to 33.8 percent from the field (22-65) and 25 percent (7-28) from 3-point range, as well.
Despite just 10 points from the bench, everybody who entered the game added some value.
“There were a lot of new pieces (who contributed) too. Every guy that checked in the game really did a good job for us,” Pikiell said, according to app.com.
But at the end of the day, this one was all about Baker, who is solidifying himself as one of the top players in the Big Ten. With his 16 points tonight, Baker is now averaging 15.3 points per game and has scored double digits in all but one game so far this season.
“He’s going to sleep good tonight,” Pikiell said, according to app.com “(I’m) proud of him. He took over the game when he needed to.”
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