Baker, Mathis factors in big Rutgers win over Nebraska
The Rutgers men’s basketball team welcomed back the spring semester with a bang on Monday night, defeating conference foe Nebraska 76-69 for arguably the best win of the growing season.
The Scarlet Knights (9-9, 2-6) picked up their second Big Ten win of the season less than two weeks after picking up their first over then-No. 16 Ohio State during the winter break. Junior forward Eugene Omoruyi also made his return to the floor against the Cornhuskers (13-6, 3-5) after suffering a knee injury in the win over the Buckeyes (12-5, 2-4).
With just 12 games left to try and raise its conference record in time for the Big Ten Tournament, Rutgers looks to remain as healthy as possible in the coming weeks.
Here are four takeaways from the Knights’ spring semester opening win at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC):
True freshman guard Montez Mathis scored a career-high 20 points on the Nebraska defense, shooting 7-16 from the field and 6-10 from the free throw line — all of which were career highs, as well. Mathis also added a career-high nine rebounds, making Monday night his best all-around game in his rookie campaign.
Freshman forward Myles Johnson also tied a personal best with 13 points and 11 rebounds — marking his second double-double this season — along with four assists. Johnson scored 8 of the final 14 points for Rutgers, securing the victory for the Knights in the final minutes.
Help at the line
As a team, Rutgers shot 17-26 from the free throw line, but that doesn’t tell the entire story of how significant the team's shooting at the line was down the stretch. Eleven of those attempts were taken within the final 2 minutes of the game, as the Huskers flailed on defensive possessions and gave the Knights layups, eventually needing to foul them over and over. Rutgers hit on six of those attempts and held Nebraska to just one basket in the last 120 seconds to come back from a 15-point deficit and win the game. Omoruyi (4-5) and sophomore guard Peter Kiss (5-5) led the way from the charity stripe and helped keep things close. Kiss is second on the team in free throw percentage (73.9) just behind freshman guard Caleb McConnell (81).
Sophomore guard Geo Baker played a key role for the Knights in the final 20 minutes of play, scoring 13 of his 16 points in the second half. He finished the game 6-14 and 3-4 from behind the 3-point line, but this stat line is essentially all from that last half of play. Baker took just two shots in the first half — connecting on a 3-pointer — but had no assists to show for the lack of offense he was providing. Baker averages the most minutes on the team, so he should be present and making an impact for more than just what seemed like 20 minutes. He also awoke on the defensive end in the second half, blocking a shot and stealing the ball twice. Complete games from Baker can very well take the team to new heights.
Decision to be made?
As a clear leader and someone with the most experience on the team, graduate student center Shaquille Doorson has earned the right to be on the floor and start for Rutgers. But if you look at the production from Monday’s matchup, it seems head coach Steve Pikiell may have a decision to make going forward. Doorson has averaged roughly 2 more minutes per game than Johnson so far this season, but Johnson has him beat in both points and rebounds per game. This is Doorson’s last year on the Banks, so it’s understandable that he gets those extra minutes. But if the Knights want to try and make that extra push to make the NCAA Tournament — which may already be out of reach with nine losses — then Pikiell will need to make adjustments, especially down low and in the middle.
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