Rutgers falls to Pitt in 2nd road loss of season
The Rutgers men’s basketball team lost its second road game of the season on Tuesday night, falling to Pitt in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the Petersen Events Center. Although sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. and sophomore center Myles Johnson each recorded double-doubles, the Scarlet Knights (6-2) could not maintain a lead against the Panthers (7-2).
The main reason for the outcome was the team not taking care of the ball. Rutgers turned it over a season-high 20 times, helping Pitt secure a 28-11 point advantage off of said turnovers. Junior guard Geo Baker was the main culprit, leading the team with five turnovers.
"20 turnovers are way too many for us," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "We haven't been doing that, either. That's a little uncharacteristic. You have to play better when you're on the road."
Pikiell’s comment is not entirely accurate. The Knights recorded 19 turnovers in their 69-57 win against Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 20.
Even though they won that game, it was a sign that ball security was an issue. They can get away with it against lesser competition, but Power Five teams will make them pay. Tuesday’s game was a prime example of that fact.
Despite its turnover problems, Rutgers entered halftime still within striking distance. The team was down 35-27 with a chance to cut into the deficit in the second half.
The Knights found their shooting stroke to start the second half, making 6 of their first 10 shots from the field. With a 39-37 lead, they were poised to capitalize on their momentum and take control of the game.
Instead, they started giving the ball away again. The Panthers took advantage with a 13-point run, and they never gave away the lead away for the rest of the contest.
Turnovers were not the only problem for Rutgers on offense. Inefficiency from the three-point and free throw lines once again plagued the team. It shot just 4-of-23 (17.4%) from beyond the arc and 6-of-10 from the charity stripe.
These two areas have been consistent issues for the Knights since last season. In order to compete with Power Five teams, Rutgers needs to improve its shooting efficiency as soon as possible.
Despite the loss, several Knights turned in noteworthy stat-lines. Harper Jr. tallied 14 points and a career high 10 rebounds en route to his first ever double-double. Johnson also scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field while setting a personal record 14 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Montez Mathis also recorded 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting, the third time he has scored double-digit points this season. Baker dished out a team-high five assists.
While Baker distributed the ball well, he struggled from the field. He shot just 3-of-11 and 2-of-8 from beyond the arc. As one of the team leaders, he will look for a more efficient performance in the next game. His scoring output is vital to the team's success.
The upcoming slate of games will test what the Knights are made of. The schedule includes a contest away at No. 11 Michigan State on Dec. 8, and a home matchup against No. 16 Seton Hall on Dec. 14. Rutgers will also have a Big Ten matchup at home versus Wisconsin on Dec. 11.
Once January comes around, the Knights will solely be playing Big Ten teams. With the Big Ten conference being one of the best in the country, the team will have its work cut out for it.
These games are a step up in the level of competition compared to November’s opponents. It is imperative for Rutgers to learn from its mistakes and improve as much as it can ahead of this challenging stretch.
"We have to continue to get better and learn," Pikiell said. "This is life on the road. When you're competing against Big Ten and ACC teams, you have to play better."
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