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Rutgers falls to Michigan in 2nd event of Big Ten Super Saturday

The Rutgers men’s basketball team faced Michigan at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday as part of the Big Ten’s Super Saturday event. The No. 25 Scarlet Knights (16-6, 7-4) lost 69-63 to the Wolverines (13-8, 4-6) in a hard-fought matchup.

The game started back and forth with shooting clinics from both sides. Graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah made two quick, long range shots, but Michigan responded with three-pointers of its own. The Wolverines made 6 of their 11 three-pointer attempts in the first half, good for 54.5%, while Rutgers ended the first 20 minutes with a 5-of-8 mark from beyond the arc (62.5%). 

Despite their three-pointer prowess, the Knights struggled with two-point attempts. They went through a stretch of making just 1 of 14 field goals and finished the half with a 13-of-39 mark (33.3%). With that being said, two threes by sophomore guard Montez Mathis toward the end of the half helped swing the momentum back to Rutgers' way and cut into Michigan's lead.

The Knights rode the hot hand, with Mathis totaling 13 points at the break. Down 37-34, they needed to be more efficient from the field and had to contain forward Brandon Johns Jr. (20 total points) if they had any hope of coming out victorious.

While Rutgers was down by as many as 14 points, the team kept clawing its way back into the game. Clutch shooting from Mathis (season-high 17 points), junior guard Jacob Young (10 points) and sophomore guard Caleb McConnell (10 points) helped keep the Knights in the contest until the last whistle. 

With that being said, shooting is not what kept Rutgers in the game. The Knights dominated on the glass, out-rebounding the Wolverines 51-37. This was no surprise, considering how well they have been rebounding throughout the entire season. Mathis and sophomore center Myles Johnson each led the team with eight boards.

“They’re excellent. Excellent offensive rebounding team,” said Michigan head coach Juwan Howard. “They’re going to attack the glass, because they’re long, they’re athletic and they’re quick. They also have two bigs, particularly Johnson, that are super long and clean up everything on the glass. You have to commend them, and respect the fact that they are a hard-working team. They’re a physical team, and they are an athletic team.”

Howard’s comments go right along with this year’s theme of opposing coaches giving Rutgers credit for its effort and physicality inside. In addition to rebounding, the Knights also outscored the Wolverines 36-26 in the paint.

The issue for Rutgers was shooting inefficiency, especially in the second half. After their excellent first half from beyond the arc, the Knights shot just 1-of-16 (6.3%) from beyond in the second half. They ended the game shooting 27-of-83 (32.5%) from the field, with Michigan shooting 22-of-47 (46.8%). 

When a team has 36 more shot attempts, it should win handily. Unfortunately for Rutgers, though, the Wolverines' defending made it hard for it to take advantage of its looks at the basket. 

Sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. and junior guard Geo Baker especially struggled, going 1-of-10 and 1-of-9 from the field, respectively. As two of the team’s leaders, they both will need to be able to put this off-night behind them quickly, as they travel to face No. 15 Maryland on Tuesday. In what will be one of the most challenging matchups of the season, the Knights will need them to be on point if they hope to avoid a losing streak.

“We didn’t play our best game today ... ” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “You have to shoot the ball better than we did in a game like that ... We have two days now to prepare for a game against Maryland on the road. This is the best league in the country and the challenges that come are numerous. We'll be back and we'll be ready to play.”

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

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