In addition to Adrian Hill, three other Scarlet Knights also scored in double-figures, as Jaron Griffin netted 14 points, Marquis Webb added 11, and JR Inman chipped in 10. Anthony Farmer led Rutgers in assists with 7, while Hamady N'diaye blocked 7 shots in just 13 minutes. The seven blocks were the most prominent component of what was N'diaye's best game of his brief college career, as he also scored 6 points and pulled down two rebounds while looking increasingly more comfortable on offense and assertive on defense.
For the game, Rutgers shot 51.2 % (21-41) from the field, and a terrific 86.7% (26-30) from the free throw line. The Scarlet Knights shot 20 more free throw attempts than the Bearcats, while only attempting 11 3-point shots (they made 5). Cincinnati meanwhile shot 27 for 57 from the field while going 8 of 17 from beyond the arc, and they converted on 7 of the 10 free throws they shot.
Yesterday's victory over the visiting Bearcats was tougher and more hard-earned than RU's 54-42 triumph over them on their home court on Jan. 7th. Cincinnati came out playing a 2-3 zone, hardly a surprise considering how poorly Rutgers has shot the ball this year, but in showing how much improvement they've made of late, the Knights absolutely dissected and shredded it. The problem for RU was that they came playing man-to-man, and Cincinnati was even more effective against that than RU was against their zone.
The Bearcats raced out to a 21-11 lead at the 10:49 mark of the first half, and that's when Rutgers changed defenses, going to a 1-3-1 zone. That strategy worked and paid big dividends, as Rutgers went on a 16-0 run to take a 27-21 lead. The Knights would increase their lead to 10, going into the half leading 39-29. Not surprisingly, the Bearcats scrapped the 2-3 in the second half, and came out playing man-to-man. The change in strategy worked for them as well.
"In the first half I thought we played with unbelievable intensity on both offense and defense", said Rutgers heads coach Fred Hill. "In the second half, that intensity wasn't matched", he said, adding that "on the defensive end we kind of gave up easy baskets". Cincinnati would regain the lead, 44-43, on a dunk by John Williamson at the 15:45 mark, and held it for most of the 2nd period. The Bearcats had their biggest lead of the half at seven points, 61-54, with 6:30 left.
But as Coach Hill said, "We've done a great job down the stretch in ball games of putting ourselves in a position to win". He said that "When we needed to make plays, we made them. The kids executed extremely well, they made big shots, they made big stops on defense, they made big free throws". Of the free throws, one of the biggest contributors was a player who's struggled all year with that aspect of his game, Anthony Farmer.
Farmer was a perfect 4-4 from the line, and he hit two huge ones with RU leading by just one point, 70-69, with only 1:02 left in regulation. Had he missed them, the outcome may have been quite different. Of course, the fact that the entire Rutgers team was taking so many free throws - they attempted 20 in the second half and made 18 – was indicative of the strategy employed by Coach Hill. He said, "We haven't shot the ball well all year. Our strategy was to take it to the basket and get to the free throw line".
The fact that RU only shot 11 3-pointers was clear evidence of the change in tactics. At this point in the year, something else is becoming evident. Before this season began, no one doubted Fred Hill's ability as a recruiter. The only question mark as he entered his first year as a head coach was just exactly how good of a coach would he turn out to be. It's becoming quite obvious, despite just a 10-15 record, that RU's new head man can indeed coach quite well.
Repeating the mantra that he has preached all year, Hill said, "We come out every day. We try and get better. I ask the guys when they walk off the practice floor, did we win or lose if we had played a game today? Did you get better? Let's go out and make progress. That's all I ask of them".