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On Friday night, the Rutgers men’s basketball got its first real test of the season, a home matchup against its former Big East rival, St. John’s.
But after dominating in their first two games against mid-major schools, the Scarlet Knights (2-1) couldn’t keep up with the Red Storm (3-0), falling 84-65.
“We have to get better, we’re a young team, six guys for the first time, it was a big game. I thought we came out a little tentative,” said head coach Steve Pikiell.
It’s true. After scoring the first basket of the night — a dunk by graduate student center Shaquille Doorson that electrified the 7,102 on hand inside the nearly sold out Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) — Rutgers didn’t lead again for the entirety of the game.
After a first-half deficit that reached as much as 8 points, the Knights came closest to taking back the lead on a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Peter Kiss that made it 24-23 with 4:49 left in the half, bringing the raucous RAC to its feet.
“Yeah it was really good. I think it would’ve been better if we were playing a little bit better, but we love our fans. I love Rutgers. I love being here so I thought it was amazing,” said sophomore guard Geo Baker on the energy inside the RAC.
St. John’s finished the half on a 14-4 run, giving it a 38-27 lead at the break.
A big reason why Rutgers struggled to put up points offensively was because of its 3-point shooting. Going into the game, the Knights were shooting an unconscious 56.5 percent from beyond the arc and were coming off a game in which they tied a program record, draining 14 3-pointers.
But on Friday, the switch flipped as Rutgers shot a measly 26.9 percent (7-26) from deep. In fact, it was the Red Storm — who hadn’t shot the ball entirely well coming into the game — who matched their own program record, sinking 16 triples on 50-percent shooting.
“We (took) way too many 3s, that’s not who I want to be with this team,” Pikiell said. “… certainly tonight wasn’t our night from 3, so now we have to be able to adjust.”
The biggest success on the night for the Knights came through penetrating the paint and getting to the rim. They scored 28 points in the paint, but seemed to shy away from it, continuing to shoot from deep.
Rutgers couldn’t find success at the free throw line either, somewhat of a theme so far in this early season. The Knights went 14-25 for a 56-percent clip from the charity stripe, starting the night 1-8.
“I thought we showed our age today,” Baker said. “We were taking really fast shots in the first half, really quick shots. I think that starts with me. I think I need to get the guys together and really calm everybody down so I really didn’t do a good job of that.”
The defense also had a tough time containing St. John’s, even with its 6-foot-9-inch forward Sedee Keita on the bench with an injury.
But the Red Storm didn’t need him, as it seemed every shot was falling. When a team makes 16 shots from 3-point territory, there aren’t many teams who can come back from that.
“It’s a disappointing loss but I felt like they shot the ball very well,” said junior forward Eugene Omoruyi. “I felt like we could’ve executed our gameplan a little better, but they shot the ball well.”
Rutgers will now go back to the drawing board as it hosts Eastern Michigan tonight for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Eagles (4-1) are coming off an 80-62 win against Boston University but more notably played No. 1 Duke this season, suffering an 84-46 blowout.
“I think all the young guys learn from this. I’m not worried about our team. I’m not gonna get too high on wins, I’m not gonna get too low on losses. I’m just gonna learn from them,” Baker said.
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