Madison Square Garden —The Rutgers men’s basketball team figured it out on how to win games down the stretch. If don’t believe just ask the Michigan State Spartans.
Rutgers point guard Paul Mulcahy scored all 17 of his points in the second half, the Scarlet Knights (16-7, 8-4) rallied pass Michigan State (14-9, 6-6) 61-55 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in front of an announced crowd of 14,844.
Rutgers and the Spartans face off for the 15th time, with the Scarlett Knights having now won three of the last four after losing the first 11 meetings. In their earlier contest this season, MSU won 70-57 despite a double-double (12 points, 12 boards) by Cliff Omoruyi.
The first half both teams started slowly and struggled on the hardwood, with MSU shooting 37.9% (11-29) and Rutgers just 24.1% (7-29), and a combined 13 turnovers, seven by Michigan State and six by the Scarlet Knights.
Tied at 19-19 apiece with 2:32 left to go before the break, the Spartans scored the final six buckets of the first half to take a 25-19 lead on a fast break layup by Jaden Akins as time ticked off the clock.
The Scarlet Knights are not usually the biggest or the quickest team, nor are they often the most talented. But they are tough, they compete, and they are a headache to play against for sixty-minutes.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was beautiful to me,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said.
Omoruyi chipped in 15 points for the Scarlet Knights, nine in the second half, and snatched 12 boards for his ninth double-double this season.
The Knights trailed by eight points early in the second half, made 3 of 16 treys, surrendered 13 offensive rebounds and missed 12 free throws. Yet they managed to win by locking down the Spartans on the perimeter — giving up just two baskets over the 12-minute stretch of the contest.
Tyson Walker scored 12 points and Joey Hauser chipped in 10 for Michigan State but was relatively quiet for the most part of the game.
In the second half, Rutgers started to feed the ball to Mulcahy frequently. Mulcahy’s points came off the charity stripe when RU went 18 of 27 from the line in the half, finishing 22 of 34 for the game to the Spartans’ 11 of 14. Rutgers recovered from a dismal 24% shooting in the first half when they trailed by six points to hit 58% of their shots in the second when they got the ball on the blocks.
Caleb O’Connell hit a deep 3-pointer to give Rutgers its final lead to accent a 9-0 run. The Knights were up by two points when Mulcahy followed with a free throw and consecutive driving layups to lead by seven with two minutes left in the contest. Rutgers’ final 10 points came from the charity stripe.
The Spartans has a 4-16 record all-time at Madison Square Garden, including a 4-12 mark under Head Coach Tom Izzo.
MSU held a 44-34 advantage in rebounding, just the second time this season but couldn’t convert on second shot opportunities against the Scarlet Knights.
“I just loved that we kept hanging in there,” Pikiell said after a second half in which Paul Mulcahy, much as he did last month against top-ranked Purdue, put his own stamp on the afternoon and scored all of his 17 points. “I thought in the second half, we started getting downhill and Paul did an unbelievable job. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, that’s for sure, but it was beautiful to me. We figured out a way to win.”
- Michigan State shot just 34.5 percent from the floor (20-of-58), including 19.0 percent from 3-point distance (4-of-21).
- After holding Rutgers to 19 points in the first half on 24.1 percent shooting (7-of-29), the Spartans allowed 42 points in the second half, including 16 in the paint, as the Scarlet Knights connected on 57.9 percent of their shots from the floor (11-of-19) and
- Michigan State committed 14 turnovers.
Michigan State returns home next week and hosts Maryland on Tuesday, Feb. 7th at the Breslin Center (9 p.m., ESPN2).
Rutgers will be on the road to play No.18 Indiana Tuesday, Feb.7th for at Assembly Hall (6:30 start on BTN).