Yeboah, Pikiell show leadership in loss to Michigan State
Despite the loss versus Michigan State, graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah had his breakout game in a challenging environment to play in. Suffering its 10th loss in a row against the Spartans (6-3), the Rutgers men’s basketball team did have some positive takeaways from a double-digit loss in Michigan.
The Scarlet Knights (6-3) struggled with their three-point shooting though, and collapsed defensively in the second half, ultimately giving up 44 points to a star-studded Michigan State squad.
One positive from the game was the scoring outburst from Yeboah. He was firing on all cylinders by showing his range and relentless ability to get to the rim. He finished with 17 points and four rebounds, all while playing only 25 minutes. Although this is his fifth time scoring in double digits, this marked a season high for him.
It comes as a good sign to see Yeboah have his best game of the year against the best team Rutgers has played this season, in most likely the toughest place the team will play in all year.
"This is a tough place to come in and play in front of their crowd. They're well-coached and a good basketball team," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "This season, there are going to be wars everywhere we go. Give them credit, and we're moving on to Wisconsin."
The Knights knew what they were walking into and Yeboah used his leadership to come up big despite the loss.
Head coach of the Spartans, Tom Izzo, made sure to make his emphasis on defense to stop sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. and junior guard Geo Baker.
“We actually did a hell of a job on Baker and a hell of a job on Harper Jr.,” Izzo said.
They both combined for 13 points while shooting 5-of-19 together. Yeboah provided some leadership to keep Rutgers in the game by taking on the scoring load. Despite always coming close, the Knights couldn’t pull away with a lead late though, which ultimately led to their demise against Michigan State.
Yeboah was not the only member of the team to shine in the defeat against the Spartans. Pikiell helped show that Rutgers is not an easy win during conference play. Michigan State was ranked the best team in the Big Ten before the season started and the Knights' defensive efforts kept it below its 80.1 PPG scoring average.
Izzo had nothing but admirable things to say about Pikiell.
"(Pikiell) is a hell of a coach. (Rutgers) played hard. They have a lot of big bodies, strong, (6-foot-6-inch) guys," Izzo said. "I thought we got our running game going early and tired them out a bit. We didn't guard the three as well early. Give them credit. But, it's a win. We'll take the win and get out of here."
Words coming from not only one of the most respected coaches in the Big Ten, but also in the country, goes to show that this Rutgers program is actually worthy of some respect despite its shortcomings. The Knights come back to New Jersey to take on another Big Ten opponent in Wisconsin.
The game will be played at the Rutgers Athletic Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
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