The Defense Rests
Horrific defense leaves Rutgers on the short end again, 86-75
On paper, there is no reason that Rutgers should have been blown out by a severely undermanned West Virginia team with only a handful of scholarship players, but paper-thin defense and a boatload of turnovers did the Knights in once again, as they dropped to 0-5 in Big East conference play with a 86-75 road loss to West Virginia.
West Virginia fielded a starting lineup that was still wet behind the ears and with little depth, but Rutgers, as has been the habit lately, made the opposing team's scorers look like they should be playing in an all-star game. Rutgers defense, unfortunately, also looked like it belonged in an all-star game, as the Mountaineers repeatedly dribbled around and passed over Rutgers' full-court pressure defense and exploited back-door cuts for easy lay-ups and fouls.
The Knights, inexplicably, had no answer for West Virginia freshman center Kevin Pittsnogle, who lurked around the perimeter canning jump shots with frustrating regularity, finishing the first half with 15 points and the game with 26 on unconscious 10-15 shooting. Mountaineer forward Drew Schifino also tortured Rutgers, hitting on 12-of-18 shots and finishing with 30 points for the game. The Knights hung around with effective shooting from Jerome Coleman, closing to within four points with as many minutes remaining in the first half. However, they were unable to stem West Virginia's scoring pace in order to pull closer. It was the first non-starting appearance for Coleman in his Rutgers career.
When the Knights perimeter shooting cooled down later in the half, the Mountaineers continued to sink mid-range jumpers at a torrid pace and were essentially unaffected by pressure defense, repeatedly converting on a defense that was slow to recover. When Rutgers switched from man-to-man to zone defense, West Virginia simply shot over it. In all, West Virginia sank a blistering 61% of their shots in the first half, and the Knights countered with an impressive 54% mark, but RU turned the ball over 9 times to only 3 turnovers for West Virginia. The Mountaineers capitalized on turnovers for a whopping 19 points in the game.
As the Knights' turnovers mounted steadily, West Virginia's spot-up shooters continued to exploit the Big East's worst three-point defense, connecting on 47% of their attempts in the first half.
Rutgers trailed 49-36 at halftime.
In the second half, Rutgers threw out the zone defense at the outset and both clubs went man-to-man for several possessions. West Virginia had an embarrassingly easy time breaking through or throwing over Rutgers pressure defense, and Rutgers' half-court defense repeatedly betrayed them. West Virginia penetrated for open jump shots or forced the Knights to commit reach-in fouls, the last resort of a defense that was a step too slow all night. Rutgers also appeared unable to decipher back-door cuts despite having defeated Princeton earlier in the year. Coleman, ostensibly brought off the bench to provide defense, cleanly missed at least two back-door cuts that led to easy baskets or fouls.
As the Knights came unglued, even the simple laws of physics seemed to betray them, as they committed a number of unforced turnovers, including a poor entry pass from Calvin Wooten and three horrendous traveling violations: one on a breakaway and another while dribbling in the open court.
West Virginia maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half as Rutgers turnovers kept them from closing the gap despite a solid shooting effort. Shot selection, however, was still unsettled, the half-court sets appeared ragged and unfocused, and the defense had holes that, for a time, made it appear that the Knights might yield 90 points to what had been considered one of the Big East's worst teams.
- It wasn't so much West Virginia's crisp interior passing and effective movement off the ball that was troubling (the Mountaineers had 20 assists to only 11 for the Knights) as much as the ease of the initial penetration, as Rutgers remained a step slow the entire night and picked up