Hoops notes: MSU has another close call against the Scarlet Knights
The men’s basketball team’s two closest wins this season have both come against the same team: The Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
The Spartans had to mount a comeback in the clubs’ first meeting to eventually pull out a 10-point victory, and the squad squeaked out a four-point overtime win over the Scarlet Knights, Wednesday night at the Breslin Center.
Rutgers (11-7, 1-4 Big Ten) is by no means a world beater—they’re currently No. 12 in the Big Ten—so how have they been able to be the only other Big Ten team besides Ohio State University to go toe-to-toe with the No. 4-ranked Spartans?
After MSU’s 76-72 overtime win Wednesday night, sophomore point guard Cassius Winston attributed this feat to their toughness.
“They’re just a tough team," Winston said. "In the Big Ten, tough teams are going to give you trouble.”
Despite the team's low conference ranking, five of Rutgers' seven losses on the season have been by no more than 10 points, and four of those defeats have been by no more than five points.
Sophomore forward Nick Ward agreed with Winston on attributing the two close calls against the Scarlet Knights to their grittiness.
“They’re a tough team, they’re a big team,” Ward said. “They play hard defense of course, but they rebound really well.”
After out-rebounding the Spartans 40 to 36 in Wednesday’s matchup, Rutgers has won the battle on the glass in the season series against MSU, 79-76. Rutgers is one of only two teams to out-rebound the Spartans in a game this season.
Head coach Tom Izzo said Rutgers was the most physically tough team MSU has played against this year.
“We played a well-coached team that is physical as the day is long,” Izzo said.
The Spartans didn’t shoot the ball all that particularly well when they played the Tar Heels in the PK80, shooting 40 percent from the floor. And they lost to the Blue Devils back in the Champions Classic.
But the Scarlet Knights were the team to hold the Spartans to their worst shooting output of the season back on Dec. 5, in which MSU shot just 38 percent overall, and they almost followed it up again on Wednesday, when they held the Spartans to a 41 percent overall shooting percentage.
“Big Ten conference play is always tough,” sophomore guard Joshua Langford said. “No matter how the rankings may say the team is or how they stack up against other teams, every game is going to be a fight.”
Struggling Offense: For the second consecutive game, MSU shot well below its season average of 52 percent.
The Spartans followed up their 39 percent shooting performance against the Buckeyes last Sunday with a 41 percent shooting outing versus the Scarlet Knights.
Prior to their loss to Ohio State, the team shot well over 50 percent from the field in six-straight contests.
Rivalry game up next: Next up on their schedule, the Spartans face a U-M team with strong win streak.
The Wolverines are winners of seven of their last eight, a pair of those wins coming against UCLA and Texas.
U-M follows closely behind the Spartans at fourth in the Big Ten standings with a 3-2 conference record, and are recently coming off of a crushing one-point loss to conference-leading Purdue (16-2, 5-0 Big Ten) at Crisler Center on Tuesday.