However, any sluggishness and lethargy one might perhaps expect from a team that has seemingly been playing poorly was clearly not in evidence from the opening tip. Perhaps sensing that their backs were against the wall, the Knights came out energized and focused. More importantly for their effort on this day, their shots finally started to fall. And just as cold shooting can appear contagious, thankfully for the Knights, so too can hot shooting.
The first Rutgers player to heat up in this game was sophomore Jaron Griffin. He scored the Knights first basket on a three-pointer, and apparently was just getting warmed up. The versatile 6'7 wing would carry Rutgers early on, scoring 13 of his career-high 16 points in the first eight minutes to stake Rutgers to a 19-to-12 lead. For the game, Griffin would shoot 6 of 7 from the field, including 4 of 5 from three. Another huge boost in this game would come from seldom-used (although that is changing under Fred Hill) back-up senior center Frank Russell.
With Adrian Hill and Hamady N'diaye in foul trouble (both would eventually foul out), Russell got a chance to play meaningful minutes – and without question he did not squander his opportunity. Playing 28 minutes, Russell recorded a double-double, scoring 11 points and pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds. He was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field, and his point total could've been even higher had he been able to convert on more than just 1 of 5 free throws.
Russell scored the last basket of the first half on a play that is worth recounting: Rutgers had possession with just eight seconds left and needed to go the length of the court. The ball was inbounded to Courtney Nelson (more about him in a moment), and when he got it he literally became a blur, streaking up court and weaving towards the basket through Nebraska defenders to dish the ball beautifully to a cutting Russell, who jammed it home to give the Scarlet Knights a 35-to-30 halftime lead.
The Cornhuskers came out in the second half and were eventually able to take a 43-to-40 lead. At the 15:42 mark both Nelson and Frank Russell re-entered the game. After a Nebraska three-pointer pushed the lead to 46-to-40, Nelson made his presence felt immediately, hitting back-to-back three's to tie it at 46 a piece. Nelson would hit one more three for the half to finish with nine points (3 of 6 fg's, 3 of 4 from three), and a team-high 5 assists. He looked extremely comfortable and in-sync, and this was by far his best game of the year.
Big –time players come up best when their team needs it the most, and if what happened during crunch time of this game is any indication, JR Inman is becoming just that. With Rutgers trailing 73-to-69 with 1:14 seconds left, Marquis Webb (quietly huge throughout) scored on a drive, was fouled, and converted the free throw to cut it to 73-to-72. Then with 38 seconds left, Inman stole the ball to give possession back to Rutgers. After Webb missed a go-ahead three pointer, Inman grabbed the offensive rebound and put it back in to score what was to be the winning basket, giving Rutgers a 74-to-73 lead. Webb would add one more free throw to give it the final 75-to-73 score.
Rutgers shot well, and there were many heroes on this afternoon. Ollie Bailey played just seven minutes, but finished with 5 points on two for three shooting and converted his only free throw on what was a big three point play. Anthony Farmer shot four for seven (one of three from beyond the arc), but missed all three free throw attempts. Overall, RU converted on 28 of 44 field goal attempts for a 63.6 percentage, light years beyond previous games this year. They also converted on 10 of 18 from three point land, with that 55.6 percent by far their best long range shooting so far.
One can argue that defensively the Knights were not as potent, as Nebraska shot 59.6 percent from the field and a blistering 64.7 percent from three point land. Aleks Maric got his pound of flesh, finishing with a game-high 20 points, but also fouled out 57 seconds left. That, not coincidentally, was when Rutgers was able to stiffen considerably on the perimeter defensively when it mattered most, as they no longer had to contend with Maric down low. All things considered, this game was like night and day from previous efforts. Let's see if hopefully it was not an aberration.