Following a week of three straight wins, the Rutgers men’s basketball team took its first loss of the season versus St. Bonaventure on Saturday.
The Scarlet Knights (3-1) made the trip up to Canada this past weekend for their first away game of the season. The Bonnies (1-3) were winless on the year before entering this weekend, making Rutgers the team's first victim of the year.
It’s no time to hit the panic button, though, as the Knights were bound to lose at some point during the season. The question that arises is one that inquires into exactly what went wrong in this weekend’s game.
In the two programs' 40th matchup with each other, Rutgers came into it with an all-time 21-18 record versus St. Bonaventure. The last matchup between the two teams resulted in an overtime win for the Bonnies back in 2008 at the Knights' home court.
This time around, St. Bonaventure was able to come away with the win by a final score of 80-74. Even though it was a close victory, the Bonnies controlled the pace of the game for the majority of it.
The Knights' biggest lead of the game was only 5 points, while their opponent's biggest lead of the game was 19 points. With the contest having only one lead change throughout the whole game, it’s safe to say that the biggest problem with Rutgers was its inability to make a run and take a commanding lead.
When looking at the numbers, the Knights really only struggled in two areas: free throw and three-point shooting. St. Bonaventure shot 11-of-24 from the three-point arc. It wasn't amazing, but compared to Rutgers' 7-of-25 mark from downtown, the numbers can be a glaring explanation as to why the Knights were unable to take a commanding lead.
In regards to free throw shooting, Rutgers also struggled. Only losing by 6, the team shot 19-of-30 from the charity stripe. Shooting 63.3% from the free throw line can never be a good thing, especially in close games.
The Knights' willingness and ability to get to the line was there, but not capitalizing on opportunities like the ones presented on Saturday are going to be what holds back Rutgers from coming out on top in competitive games.
With the bad, though, always comes the good as well. The silver lining with this loss is that the Knights did almost everything else right. After shooting a morbid 9-of-28 from the field goal in the first half, head coach Steve Pikiell and his staff made adjustments and his team played great in the second half.
Its free throw and three-point percentage went up from the first half in a noticeable fashion. In doing this, Rutgers showed its toughness by playing through adversity on the road.
Rebounding has been something Pikiell has been stressing throughout the season. With a total of 12 second-chance points for the Knights (4 for the Bonnies), the squad showed its relentlessness when it comes to crashing the glass.
One odd stat from this weekend was that Rutgers had more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds (20-19). This atypical stat showed the team's urgency to crash the boards.
One last stat that stuck out was the fact that the Knights' bench outscored St. Bonaventure’s 24-11. When conference play comes, having a surplus of depth is a problem that Pikiell and company would love to have when going up against Big Ten powerhouses like Michigan State.
Leading the bench in scoring was graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah (10 points). His scoring presence and leadership were felt when his team tried to pull together a late second-half comeback.
Looking back on the weekend, Rutgers may have lost, but the program assuredly learned a whole lot on what needs improvement. Going back to square one and prioritizing free throws would be a good start. Especially in close games, free throws are one of the most important aspects that have to be executed.
Aside from that, Pikiell and his staff were able to get a good look at what the team’s other weaknesses are and will certainly do what they can to lead the Knights in the right direction in fixing them.
Rutgers takes on Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
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