Rutgers joining the Big 10 was a joke. Didn't make sense at the time, still doesn't make sense now. Hell, I would even bet that Rutgers fans themselves would say the same. The Scarlet Knights have been the last seed in the B1G Tournament each year that they've participated. Hardly a feature addition, wouldn't you say?
But weird things happen, and one such weird thing is the quiet way in which Rutgers became competent this year. Damning with faint praise? Sure, but this team has been really bad! Like, lose by 50 points in a conference game bad. And this year they're still in last, still not a hope to be interesting, and yet...little signs here and there that they might turn a corner. At least at some point.
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Because if you pay close enough attention to B1G basketball, you'll find a team in Rutgers that plays hard, especially on defense, and although change is happening slowly, it is happening. Particularly on the defensive end, and on the boards. They are surprisingly long and athletic, and if they could only hit a shot every once in a while, they'd scare more people.
And in the early rounds of the B1G tournament, they did both of those things. They started hitting shots, and when Rutgers starts scoring points, their defense becomes all the more scary. First came Minnesota, who Rutgers held to 16% from behind the 3-point line. Then IU, who looked early like they were going to run away with it, before Rutgers turned up the D and turned on their offense, shooting 58% from the field.
And Friday night, Rutgers continued the pattern. This time by getting up in the jersey of Purdue's players and getting in the passing lanes, turning Purdue over at a high level, and scoring off of these created opportunities. Seven first half turnovers put Purdue in a place where they were playing from behind, as they didn't hold the lead at all in the second half.
What else did Rutgers do well? For one, their bench scored 35 points while holding Purdue's bench to three points total. They also rebounded the ball well - 17 on the offensive end - and did everything they needed to stay in the contest.
Hats off to Rutgers, they were a tough assignment, and will be tougher and tougher as the years go on. But hats off to Purdue for fighting, for playing good defense, for drawing fouls, for hitting their threes (43% as a team).
It was enough to get a win tonight. Vince Edwards and Carsen Edwards made sure of that, and that pairing has the potential to take this team far. But questions remain, questions regarding rebounding, ball safety, and bench scoring. Time is running out to figure that out. Next chance to prove themselves is Saturday night against Penn State, a victory potentially setting up a rematch against Michigan State.