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Rutgers picks up 3rd consecutive victory with defeat of UMass

The Rutgers men’s basketball team picked up its third win in a row against UMass this past Thanksgiving weekend. Ironically, unlike their opponent, the Minutemen (5-3) suffered their third loss in a row against the Scarlet Knights (6-1).

The matchup was close in the first half, until Rutgers locked up UMass defensively and ultimately hit more than half of its shots throughout the whole game. The key to this winning streak has been defensive efforts from the team as a whole.

In this game though, the key players in the Knights' win were junior guard Geo Baker (17 points), sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. (15 points), sophomore center Myles Johnson (10 rebounds), sophomore guard Caleb McConnell (10 points) and junior guard Jacob Young (10 points).

Head coach Steve Pikiell was able to end this stellar month with his 50th win at Rutgers after defeating the Minutemen. Also, under Pikiell, the Knights are now 30-4 in non-conference home games. Having his men ready for war to defend their home court is something that is crucial when preparing for Big Ten games. 

Time will only tell, though, if this record can translate to home victories for Rutgers against opponents like Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. 

The key to this win had to be the defensive effort by the Knights. The anchor, Johnson, led the way with 10 rebounds and two blocks. Baker also contributed with a team-high four steals against UMass. Rutgers also held the Minutemen to shooting 36% throughout the whole game. 

Along with a poor shooting performance, UMass struggled with holding onto the ball, as the Knights forced 19 turnovers. Rutgers also out-rebounded its opponent 40-34, which was a crucial aspect of the team's win. 

One big takeaway from this game can be the scoring effort in back-to-back games from Harper Jr. The versatile guard has been lights out these past two games for the Knights. Scoring a season-high 25 points against NJIT and 15 against the Minutemen, his scoring outburst can be something to keep an eye on as the season goes on, especially since his minutes per game have been jumping over the past couple of games. 

UMass head coach Matt McCall was impressed with Rutgers' defense and style of play.

"I thought that was the best Rutgers has played all year. I've been watching them on tape. Rutgers, I love their team, I love their size, I love their physicality. That really showed today in today's game and had us rattled. We were rattled on offense," McCall said. "We weren't really able to overcome some unforced turnovers. We have to get that corrected because, obviously, our schedule doesn't get any easier, but you got to give Rutgers a lot of credit, how they played.” 

Even though it is sitting at an impressive 6-1, Pikiell’s squad cannot get comfortable with the schedule ahead of them. This month, the Knights will see opponents such as Pitt, the Spartans (5-2), the Badgers (4-3) and Seton Hall, just to name a few.

December can be a make-or-break month for Rutgers.

"This was a tough stretch here, with this game with no time to prepare, and now we have to go to Pittsburgh with no time to prepare. Tomorrow's our NCAA day off. We'll go there, (but) when you're on the road, it's always different. It's a different environment," Pikiell said. "These guys have been on the road before. (We're) going to have to play really good basketball against a good program and a good, well-coached Pitt team. Our guys will hopefully be ready for that next challenge in this journey."

From this, it is apparent that Pikiell is approaching this tough stretch one game at a time. 

The Knights battle the Panthers (6-2) in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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