Connect with us


Rutgers gets program win in overcoming Michigan



Mar 9, 2023; Chicago, IL, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights players celebrate after defeating the Michigan Wolverines at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t a great start for Rutgers against Michigan at the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday. After two quick made baskets from Hunter Dickinson, Jett Howard buried a three. The Wolverines led 7-0 just three minutes into the game. The Scarlet Knights missed its first four shots of the game.

For a team that came in having lost six of its last eight games and fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid, this was not the way to build confidence on the floor.

It seemed unlikely that would be the largest lead Michigan would hold in the game, but that’s what ultimately happened.

Paul Mulcahy got Rutgers into the game with an offensive rebound and putback followed by a three-pointer. Michigan was able to extend the lead back to seven points with an 18-11 lead with 7:25 left in the first half. However, the bench stepped up in a big way.

Oskar Palmquist and Aundre Hyatt both made their two free throw attempts. Antwone Woolfolk scored six points including a coast to coast drive in which he finished in traffic. Although Joey Baker broke the tie with a buzzer beating three giving Michigan a 28-25 lead, Rutgers wasn’t deterred.

“Every guy chipped in. I really believe in this group,” Steve Pikiell said. “Wolf gave us great minutes. Aundre comes in and hits a big three and makes two free throws. Oskar Palmquist just straight solid. It’s a credit to Oskar hasn’t played, and now he plays 18 minutes. So stayed the course and kept doing what he needed to do, and now he’s a big part of this.”

A 9-1 run to start the second half gave RU the lead and they never looked back on their way to a 62-50 victory. It was once again of the clutch variety.

Derek Simpson attacked and played with an edge. Caleb McConnell defended and rebounded. Cam Spencer made big shots. Aundre Hyatt and Paul Mulcahy each hit big threes to extend the lead. Cliff blocked shots, rebounded, defended and dunked. Wolf and Oskar played their role and made key plays like closing out on threes and each swiping a steal.

Ever player who stepped on the court contributed to the win. It wasn’t just a team win though.

It was a program win. This was a culture win. Defense ad toughness is the identity of this program. However, the culture is about continuing to fight and rise above the adversity when the stakes are the highest.

There were many doubts raised by the media, bracketologists and even its own fan base in the last week plus. Proving those doubters wrong was an added benefit. Winning is the most important thing

“Just a good old Rutgers grind-you-down win,” said McConnell. “This is the type of games we win. Definitely when our backs are against the wall, like I said last week, I feel like that’s kind of when we play at our best. Somehow we just end up winning these ugly games. Sometimes it may not be pretty, but we just end up coming out with the W. That’s just what we do.”

He added, “I just want to thank my team for sure just for grinding this one out and onto the next.”

Entering the Big Ten Tournament in a must win game to keep their dreams of dancing alive, Rutgers came through. While they aren’t a lock per say, their win on Thursday has been followed by several bubble teams losing. Regardless, this team showed resolve just a few days after they looked out of gas.

“This team has fought through a ton of adversity, players injured, calls at the end of the game, and just proud of them,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “We outrebounded a really good rebounding team. And these guys just keep fighting. They’re a great group.”

Credit Pikiell with pushing the right buttons. In addition to making key adjustments in starting Derek Simpson, getting the most out of his bench and switching to a pressure zone in the second half, he also went outside the box in how to motivate his team.

Earlier this week, Pikiell made a point that stuck with his players. Instead of pounding nails like his catch phrase states, Pikiell was smashing his own phone. He did so as a way to tell his players to tune out social media and distractions.

“Pikiell, he just wants us to focus,” explained McConnell. “The cell phones have been really big in mental issues and things like that. He just wants us to stay positive. When you’re doing bad, everyone wants to bash you. Everyone wants to kick you while you’re down. But as soon as you are doing good and you win a game, now all of a sudden you’re the best team in America. So you just have to stay focused. You just wants us to all be connected and stay focused and not worry about what other people are saying.”

As for what Pikiell was trying to do in smashing his phone, he said “Need the team focused. People tell them how great they are when we win. Tell them how bad they are. These guys are young guys. It’s us. They put the work in. We sweat. We started in June on this journey. We won more games now, 19, than we won all of last year.”

He added, “Yeah, the phones don’t help them be better players. They don’t help them — that’s it.”

The strong chemistry within the team was apparent with how happy the veterans were for freshman Derek Simpson. The guard stepped up in a big way and gave Rutgers a major lift on the offensive end. His offensive rebound and layup off a missed free throw triggered the game busting 22-11 run.

“He was terrific,” said Pikiell. “Just the matchups. I thought last time McDaniel caused a lot of problems for us. We turned the ball over a lot. So to add another really good ball handler to our list. What I’m most proud of with Derek is zero turnovers in that game. We really lost the first game because of our turnovers. Then really appreciate all the other guys that came and did what they were supposed to do.”

While losing Mawot Mag certainly has been an issue as RU finished the regular season have won just two of eight games. However, this team has stuck together and on Thursday they were rewarded.

“That’s what we do, man, honestly. This Rutgers team, we just grind teams down, and we just stay connected on the defensive end,” explained McConnell. “I feel like we did an awesome job of just staying with it no matter what, no matter if shots are going in or we’re turning the ball over or just whatever. I feel like we did an awesome job. Cliff was up to touch. Guys were in their gap. We’re getting big-time rebounds when we had to and big-time stops. It was just definitely a team effort.”

Instead of losing to the trendy pick to win the Big Ten Tournament in Michigan, Rutgers now prepares for regular season champion Purdue. RU won at Mackey in early January and have won five of their last six meetings against the Boilermakers. Playing together is key if the Scarlet Knights want to pull the upset.

“It’s a good group. Caleb McConnell. I thought Paul Mulcahy was spectacular today,” explained Pikiell. “I thought he did an unbelievable job keeping balls alive. I liked our shots we got in the first half. Put Derek in the starting lineup. Aundre Hyatt was awesome, “Coach, whatever you need.” I trust them. These guys have been connected, and you’ve got to keep them that way because it’s a tough league. Night in and night out, any team can beat any team. There’s really good coaches and obviously really good players.”

After dominating Michigan on the defensive end and holding them to a season low 50 points, Rutgers is in good position for a program record third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. However, a win over the Boilermakers would not only clinch an appearance but improve the seed line for RU.

At the end of the day, Thursday’s win over Michigan was another example of this program rising above adversity when it matters most. That’s what Steve Pikiell has built. Just when you think his team is on the ropes or the verge of a season ending loss, they step up. When you have a strong culture fostered by a belief in playing for one another and for the team, good things can happen.

“So you just stay the course and keep fighting and know that you could beat anybody and know that you could lose to anybody,” stated Pikiell. “That’s the kind of league it is.”

Rutgers is playing in the Quarterfinals on Friday against league regular season champion Purdue. Hopefully, they’re just getting started this postseason. The fact that this program continues to make every March memorable now after three decades of never coming close to doing so speaks volumes about how well Steve Pikiell has done. The Scarlet Knights have resurrected their season once again. The only thing this team can’t seem to do when things are clicking like they were on Thursday is resurrecting their coach’s phone.

Thanks for reading the The Scarlet Faithful. For more Rutgers Athletics content from The Scarlet Faithful, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. You can also subscribe to our YouTube ChannelYou can subscribe to The Scarlet Faithful podcast on AppleSpotify, Pocket Casts and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. For advertising inquiries or to reach out directly, email at

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. David Johnson

    March 10, 2023 at 4:50 pm

    Really surprized by this turnaround. Every player was – in the +/- trip against northwestern and a + on the /- trip against Michigan. Great job by Pikiel with getting Simpson ready to step up to starter. Simpson starts from here on. Simpson gives tham Mag like minutes and scoring and the bench played great. Go figure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *