Rutgers and Purdue once again played a tough, physical battle in a game that went down to the wire. The Scarlet Knights had won five of the last six meetings against the Boilermakers including a road victory in January. Unfortunately, RU fell just short on Friday in a 70-65 loss to exit the Big Ten Tournament.
The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 9-2 lead that they extended to 17-5 less than seven minutes into the game. Purdue was able to adjust and Mason Gillis did a lot of damage. Derek Simpson was called for two fouls with under eight minutes left in the half and Rutgers leading 20-16. RU struggled offensively in his absence as the Boilermakers finished the half on a 13-8 run to lead 29-28 at the break.
Foul trouble was a major issue for Rutgers in the second half. The biggest problem was the inconsistency in officiating. Both teams had gripes and it disrupted the flow of the game down the stretch. Caleb McConnell fouled out while Cam Spencer, Cliff Omoruyi and Paul Mulcahy all committed four fouls.
That being said, Rutgers lost because of missed opportunities. They forced 11 turnovers but only scored 12 points off of them. RU also seemed to wear down in the final six plus minutes and it less to some missed free throws and miscues. However, this team played really hard and earned respect in how tough they played Purdue once again.
Rutgers shot just 40% from the floor but limited turnovers (8) and had a 60% assist rate. Purdue shot 47% from the floor and 35% from three.
Simpson was only 5 of 18 from the floor and missed some close range shots down the stretch. However, he proved that he could break defenders down and create offense. His performance in the Big Ten Tournament was extremely encouraging. Simpson led RU for a second straight game with 18 points along with 3 steals, 2 rebounds and an assist. Due to foul trouble, he only played 27 minutes but led Rutgers with a +/- of 4. There is a lot to like about how the offense is evolving with Simpson running it.
Cam Spencer scored 13 points on 5 of 13 shooting. He had some good looks and a few that rimmed in and out. Cliff Omoruyi had 10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks. He battled inside with Zach Edey, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and held his own.
Another takeaway was the play of Paul Mulcahy. He played with more confidence and conviction since he took over the Michigan State game a month ago. Playing off the ball seems to have benefitted him and shot much better, finishing 4 of 6 from the floor including 2 of 2 from three. Mulcahy finished with 10 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 0 turnovers. If he can continue to make progress, it will make this team even tougher in whichever tournament they play in next.
Rutgers leaves the Big Ten Tournament having shown they are worthy of making the NCAA Tournament. This team showed real fight this past week after dealing with so much adversity this season. The wait until Selection Sunday will be long but beating Michigan gives them a good chance of hearing their name being called.
Here is my rapid reaction video which covers takeaways from this loss as well as the strong performance overall at the Big Ten Tournament.
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