The Rutgers men’s basketball team took its first loss of the season this past Saturday by a final score of 80-74 on the road against St. Bonaventure. The Scarlet Knights (3-1) nearly erased a 19-point first half deficit, but ultimately could not complete the comeback against the Bonnies at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
Shooting efficiency played a central role in the first half scoring gap. St. Bonaventure shot 17-of-29 from the field in the first two quarters, good for 58.6%. On the other hand, Rutgers shot just 9-of-28, reaching only a 32.1% mark.
Missed free throws were also a problem for the Knights, which is a familiar issue from last season. They shot 19-of-30 from the charity stripe, reaching only a 63.3% mark. Junior guard Jacob Young struggled the most from the line, shooting 1-of-5.
With that being said, Young’s game also had positive aspects. He dished out a career-high eight assists, showing that he can still help the team even when he is having an off-day with his shot.
Along with Young, the rest of the team also greatly improved in the second half. Rutgers outscored the Bonnies 44-37 on 53.5% shooting, while holding St. Bonaventure to 40%.
"We came back in the second half," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "I was proud of the final 20 minutes, but you can't spot a team that many points on the road.”
The main catalysts for the Knights' late surge were sophomore guard Caleb McConnell (13 points), sophomore center Myles Johnson (12 points) and junior guard Geo Baker (11 points). Graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah also chipped in 10 points.
McConnell’s effort was especially notable, as he shot a career best 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Considering the rest of the team’s struggles at the line, his perfect efficiency was a refreshing bright spot.
3-point shooting was another area of concern. As a team, Rutgers shot 7-of-25 from beyond the arc, good for just 28%. Baker especially struggled from long-range, shooting 3-of-10.
The lack of shooting efficiency canceled out the Knights' solid effort on the boards. They out-rebounded the Bonnies 39-31, with McConnell and senior forward Shaq Carter leading the team with six rebounds each.
Twenty of the team’s rebounds were on the offensive end, continuing Rutgers' trend of strong play in the paint this season. Yeboah and McConnell each led the team with four offensive rebounds. Going forward, the Knights simply have to convert more shots to make use of their effectiveness on the boards.
On defense, Rutgers had issues containing Alejandro Vasquez (20 points) and Justin Winston (19 points). Each player was effective from the three-point range, with Vazquez shooting 3-of-5 and Winston shooting 4-of-5. The Knights will look to tighten up their perimeter defending when they host Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
With challenging Big Ten games on the horizon, Rutgers needs to iron out some issues on both ends of the floor. Shooting efficiency from both the field and free throw line needs to improve. The Knights also have to play a strong game during both halves, rather than having to dig themselves out of a large deficit in the latter part of the game.
The team's performance in the next three games against the Lumberjacks (4-0), NJIT and UMass will show how prepared they are for conference opponents. The first one on the slate for Rutgers is Michigan State, whom the team will face on Dec. 8.
“We've got to get better,” Pikiell said. “Hopefully this is a real learning experience for us. The journey continues."
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