Basketball is a game of runs, and that held particularly true in the Rutgers men's basketball team's 87-82 victory against Nebraska on Wednesday night. The game went into overtime, but the Scarlet Knights (10-7, 2-4) ultimately prevailed due to their team defense and dominance on the glass.
Rutgers got off to a fast start on offense. The Knights pushed the pace and passed the ball well, which resulted in a 9-7 lead at the first media timeout.
Coming out of the first media timeout, though, Rutgers went cold from the field, allowing the Cornhuskers (13-5, 3-4) to pass the ball around the perimeter and go on a 20-6 run from the 16:45 mark to the 8:51 mark of the first half.
With the Knights down by 12 points, a dunk from sophomore guard Derek Simpson revitalized Rutgers' energy and the crowd. After the dunk, the Knights played better defense and went on a 19-9 run in the final 8 minutes of the first half to tie the game at 36-36 heading into halftime. Nebraska did not score a field goal in the final 6:24 of the first half.
At halftime, senior forward Mawot Mag led the team with 10 points, including a tip-in basket in the final seconds to tie up the game.
Rutgers was also able to keep the Cornhuskers' star guard, Keisei Tominaga, in check in the first half, as he only scored 6 points.
Senior forward Aundre Hyatt opened up the second half by draining a corner three-pointer to give the Knights a 3-point lead. But after that made shot, Nebraska began to assert its offensive dominance again, as it began hitting three-pointers to help it take a 63-51 lead with approximately 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Once again, Rutgers responded, ending the game on an 18-6 run and not allowing the Cornhuskers to score a field goal in the final 9:39 of the game.
With just under a minute to play, the Knights were down 69-66 with the ball when senior center Clifford Omoruyi grabbed an offensive rebound off of Simpson's missed shot and made a basket while getting fouled.
Omoruyi missed the ensuing free throw, but Rutgers got a defensive stop, and Nebraska sent Omoruyi to the free throw line again. Omoruyi missed again, but the Knights' defense made another crucial stand, and on offense, Hyatt took the ball and drew contact in the paint to go to the free-throw line with 19 seconds remaining. Hyatt missed the first free throw but made the second one to tie the game at 69-69.
With the game tied with 19 seconds left, the Cornhuskers had the ball but turned it over with 3.8 seconds remaining. On the following possession, though, Simpson traveled, giving Nebraska a chance to win the game in the final 3 seconds. The Cornhuskers inbounded a lob near the basket, but the pass was too high, and it found the hands of senior forward Mawot Mag to send the game to overtime.
The game went back and forth in overtime, and with approximately 2 minutes remaining, graduate student guard Austin Williams drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to give Rutgers a 79-74 lead. Nebraska battled back, but down by 3 points with 17 seconds remaining, Tominaga air-balled a deep three-pointer to give the Knights the ball. Simpson made both of his free throw shots to seal the victory.
"I'm gonna make both of these," Simpson said emphatically after the game. "And we're gonna move on — (we're) gonna get a stop."
Omoruyi dominated inside for Rutgers, scoring 14 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
Simpson had a near triple-double, scoring 14 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out eight assists.
"He was just in command," Pikiell said about Simpson. "We've asked a lot of him … He's a true sophomore — has to handle the ball, had to defend Tominaga, which isn't easy."
Hyatt led Rutgers with 17 points, and Mag scored 16 points and got two steals.
The Knights also had a team record of 56 rebounds in the contest and got 14 more offensive rebounds than the Cornhuskers, which they converted into 20 second-chance points.
"They just flat out out-toughed us tonight on the glass," said Nebraska's head coach Fred Hoiberg after the game.
Pikiell also emphasized the team's rebounding effort in the postgame press conference.
"A team that usually rebounds is a team that usually wins," Pikiell said.
Despite the win, Rutgers only shot 53.3 percent from the free throw line and 12-28 from layups, something it will look to improve on in the coming weeks.
The Knights will now look to get their first win at the State Farm Center in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois when they face Illinois this Sunday. The game will tip-off at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and 88.7 WRSU-FM.
"Just a good win for Rutgers nation — a good win in our league," Pikiell said. "We're on the road again, so we gotta continue to improve."
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