It wasn't the prettiest win in the world, but Rutgers got what it ultimately needed yesterday against the Jaspers. As a result of the Scarlet Knights' earlier losses this year to St. Peter's and Rider, the contest against Manhattan took on an added significance, as all three opponents are from the MAAC. In the end, a loss is a loss, but with the win, Rutgers avoided the ignominious distinction of being a Big East team that went 0-3 against MAAC teams this year.
As mentioned, JR Inman and Anthony Farmer led RU with 16 points each, and Inman also pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds. Farmer was perhaps the overall most impressive player for the Scarlet Knights on this afternoon. He shot 5-9 from the field and 5-6 from the free throw line, and was a steadying hand and clutch contributor when the Knights needed it most. Inman meanwhile notched the fourth double-double of the season, and the eighth of his career.
Statistics, however, can often be misleading, and on this afternoon RU got important contributions from two players whose stat lines may not seem especially impressive. Hamady N'diaye played 18 minutes and had 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots, but it was what occurred after he picked up his fourth foul that was most noteworthy. First of all, the decision by Fred Hill to leave him in the game with 4 fouls and over 14 minutes left in the game was in itself quite notable, and the confidence the staff now has in him was rewarded. His play from that point on was inspiring, as he ripped down several big rebounds, and also hit a jumper from the left corner - a shot he has probably never made in an RU uniform before.
That jumper, which pushed the RU lead to 57-46, was followed by a Manhattan miss, and then one of those big rebounds by Hamady. Anthony Farmer then drilled a three which had the crowd on its feet and prompted a Manhattan time out, but Farmer was going on a roll. After play resumed, he drained two free throws and then scored two more baskets which gave Rutgers its biggest lead of 66-46 - a lead it would nearly relinquish. Meanwhile, the other RU player whose stats won't jump out at you, but whose play was nonetheless essential for this victory was Earl Pettis.
In actuality, the 7 points that Pettis scored yesterday were a small milestone
for him in his brief RU career, as it represents a new career-high (he also
snagged 5 rebounds and had 1 steal). He played 21 minutes, although that in
part was out of necessity as Jaron Griffin took a nasty spill in the second
half that sidelined him for awhile. To his credit, Pettis
proved up to the challenge. It's difficult to describe Earl's game to an outsider that's never seen him play before; he doesn't seem to do any one thing great - just everything quite well. He seems to be almost always in the right place at the right time, and possesses a natural feel for the game. In a sport where far too often players will force bad shots, Pettis never does. He'll only take the shots he knows are expected of him, and if anything, will force a bad pass. It's becoming more apparent now why he's been described as a "glue" guy.
Griffin meanwhile saw his shooting woes continue (1-7), but on a few occasions took the ball to the hole, and that was indeed how he scored his only field goal. However, he did manage to draw some contact (something it's now obvious he's reluctant to initiate) on a few of his forays to the hoop, and was a perfect 4-4 from the charity stripe. Perhaps the best thing that can happen to him and RU would be for him to throw down a nasty, in-your-face-jam against the likes of Georgetown or UConn, and develop a renewed sense of confidence in his ability to drive to the basket against big bodies.
Courtney Nelson played 25 significant minutes and was RU's third scorer in double figures, finishing with 12 points. With Corey Chandler sidelined, his contributions have become especially vital, and it's also apparent that with Chandler out, Nelson at times can be RU's most spectacular player. A few of his baskets were on jet-quick drives to the hoop, and he can indeed be a blur at times. The other two RU players that saw action were Byron Joynes, who scored 3 points and pulled down 5 boards in 17 minutes, and Mike Coburn, who once again started in place of Chandler. Coburn made just 3 of 7 shots, but did dish out a team-high 3 assists and had just one turnover in 26 minutes.
RU led this game 36-32 at the half, had a biggest lead of 66-46, and nearly lost that lead, as it found itself up by just 5, 70-65, with just a few minutes left. But it hung on to win, and (roll out the clichés), in the end, a win is a win, and that's all that matters and all that will be remembered.