The Rutgers men's basketball team completed a 15-point second-half comeback to defeat Michigan 69-59 on Saturday afternoon. The victory gave the Scarlet Knights (11-10, 3-7) their first-ever win at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Before the game, it was announced that redshirt junior guard Jeremiah Williams and sophomore center Emmanuel Ogbole would be making their season debuts against the Wolverines (7-15, 2-9). Williams was inserted into the starting lineup for senior forward Aundre Hyatt, and he scored the game's first points, sinking both of his free throws to give Rutgers a 2-0 lead approximately 1 minute into the game.
That would be the Knights' only lead of the first half, as Michigan responded with a 10-0 scoring run to get out to an early 8-point lead. Approximately 4 minutes into the game, sophomore guard Derek Simpson drove by his defender and made a layup to stop the Wolverines' scoring run and give Rutgers its first made field goal.
Michigan continued to expand on its lead as the first half progressed, thanks to a strong shooting performance. At halftime, the Wolverines were shooting 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three-point range, whereas the Knights were shooting just 38.7 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from beyond the arc.
With Rutgers down 35-23 with 2:22 left to go in the first half, the Knights went on a quick 7-0 scoring run. But Michigan responded with a Terrance Williams II made jump shot and an Olivier Nkamhoua fastbreak dunk to beat the first-half buzzer after Simpson turned the ball over with 8 seconds left in the half.
The Wolverines took a 39-30 lead into halftime. Senior forward Mawot Mag led all scorers with 11 points in the first half.
The second half started similarly to the first, and Michigan extended its lead to 15 points in approximately the first 3 minutes of the second half. That would be the Wolverines' biggest lead of the day as Rutgers tightened its defense and increased its pace on offense to go on a 22-10 scoring run in the following approximately 10 minutes.
With 6:57 left in the game, Michigan was holding on to a 57-54 lead. The 10-minute scoring run was fueled by the play of Simpson and head coach Steve Pikiell occasionally switching to a 1-3-1 zone on defense. Simpson scored 9 points and had a couple of assists in the run, and the Wolverines struggled to move the ball.
With the momentum favoring the Knights, they continued to play hard and went on a 15-2 scoring run to close out the game and get the victory. Simpson was, once again, instrumental on offense, executing the pick and roll with senior center Clifford Omoruyi and burying multiple jump shots. Simpson finished with a game-high 19 points, and 14 of those points came in the second half.
"Derek is going to get the big pat on the back, but I know Derek would say that we got help from all of our guys, whether it was Cliff freeing us up, or Mawot cutting," said associate head coach Brandin Knight, who was filling in for Pikiell who had the flu. "There's some things you don't see on the stat sheet, and the guys did a great job at clearing areas to make lanes for Derek, so he could get downhill and make the plays that he did."
Michigan's offense struggled in the final 17 minutes of the game, scoring just 12 points in those 17 minutes. Despite the Wolverines' offensive second-half struggles, Tarris Reed Jr. ended the game with 12 points and 15 rebounds.
Omoruyi recorded a double-double in the win, scoring 15 points and corralling in 11 rebounds, and Williams scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in his season debut. Ogbole scored 1 point in his season debut.
"Jeremiah has been practicing the last couple of weeks, and we have been waiting for him to get back on the court," Simpson said after the game. "He brings a different kind of energy, and that dude plays hard."
Rutgers dominated the offensive glass as a team, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and converting that into 18 second-chance points. The Knights also forced Michigan into 19 turnovers, which they converted into 8 fastbreak points.
The win was Pikiell's 128th with Rutgers, tying him with Bob Wenzel for the third-most wins in program history.
The Knights will look to get back-to-back road wins when they travel to face Maryland on Tuesday at the XFINITY Center in College Park, Maryland. The game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. and be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and 88.7 WRSU-FM.
"I told them to keep fighting," Knight said. "Yesterday at practice, we just kept competing, so everything we did was aimed at getting after each other. When we got down, the resilience that the guys showed was tremendous."
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