The Rutgers men’s basketball team suffered its first home loss last night against Michigan, 60-52. The Scarlet Knights (18-9, 9-7) fought until the end, but came up short against head coach Juwan Howard's Wolverines (17-9, 8-7).
Rutgers came out hot. Junior guard Geo Baker hit 2 out of 3 shots from the field to start the game. Michigan did not back down, though. The first half consisted of a back and forth dog-fight between the two Big Ten opponents.
After Baker sank a buzzer-beater three-pointer to end the first half, the Knights led the Wolverines 31-28. Scoring leaders of the game from the first half were Baker (12 points) and Michigan’s Zavier Simpson (12 points).
After shooting 48.3 percent from the field in the first half, Rutgers went ice cold in the second, shooting only 23.5 percent. The Wolverines, on the other hand, stayed on their course by shooting 40 percent from the field in the second half. After being down 9, Michigan pulled together and gave the Knights their first loss at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) all season.
Other notable scoring performances from Rutgers came from the likes of graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah (10 points) and sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. (13 points). True freshman guard Paul Mulcahy lead the team with six rebounds.
Yeboah shared some of his leadership mentality when approaching a subject like the tough loss at home.
“Staying positive. As a leader you have to be positive because if you are not positive and you're negative, that reflects on to the rest of the team,” Yeboah said. “We are going to go back to practice, go back to the drawing board and start a new win streak.”
After suffering his first loss at home, Mulcahy explained what he has learned as a young player during this 17-game stretch at the RAC.
“Every game is important. We play in a real, real tough conference and we have to bring it every night. Preparation is key and we just have to bounce back,” Mulcahy said.
Simpson finished the game with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. He also shot 6 of 10 from the field, including hitting two from beyond the arc. Other notable scoring performances from the Wolverines were Franz Wagner (12 points) and David DeJulius (10 points).
After struggling on the road all season, Michigan pulled out the win at, statistically, one of the hardest places to win in the country. Howard spoke about what makes the RAC different from other places his team has played at.
“It's loud. I have to say that. They have an energetic crowd and the team has a lot of success here in being 17-0. It is a small environment, I think it is one of the smaller arenas that is in the Big Ten. Everyone says it is a 'historic place', I am just glad I got to witness it.”
Although struggling from the field in the second half, the Knights' defense helped pick up the slack to keep themselves in the game. The Wolverines' fast style of play averages 76 points per game. Tonight, Rutgers held them to 60 points despite the loss. They also turned the ball over 10 times, while the Knights only turned it over nine.
Head coach Steve Pikiell’s message to his team all year has been defense. He shared his thoughts on his team’s fight and why they lost tonight’s contest.
“The ball didn't go in for us in the second half. I did like our looks for the most part. But you got to put the ball in the basket to beat teams like that,” Pikeill said. “I loved our effort. I thought we played our tails off. These guys always fight. When you play a elite team with an elite point guard (which) leads the country in assists and have shooters around them, you just have to play better than that.”
Pikiell also shared his optimism going forward.
“We gotta bounce back. We play in the best league (Big Ten) in the country. We’ve got four more and I want to make sure that senior night is rocking," he said. "We have got one more home game here and now we have to go on the road.”
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