This week's highlight is the Big Ten / ACC Challenge, with plenty of worthwhile games coming up later this week. As for tonight, the first two games of the challenge weren't big on mass appeal or star power, but both games did provide enjoyable and competitive games. Also in action was Indiana, who took a breather tonight against Alcorn State as they prepare for Duke in less than 48 hours.
Let's take a look at the action.
Game of the Night: Wake Forest 69, Rutgers 68
With just over nine minutes remaining, Bishop Daniels hit a jumper to give Rutgers a 12 point lead at home against Wake Forest. The game wasn't always pretty, but things were looking promising for Rutgers heading down the stretch. Then things went south in a hurry for the Scarlet Knights. Shortly after Justin Goode made a layup with 7:21 remaining to increase the lead to eight, but Rutgers would then go the remaining 7:21 without making a single field goal.
When you go over seven minutes to close a game without making a single shot from the field, relying exclusively on free throws, it's going to be hard to win. Especially when you're a Rutgers team that has struggled offensively and allowed a Wake Forest team playing poorly to stick around. The Scarlet Knights only hit 36.5% of their field goals, hit 3 of 15 three pointers and only 61.1% from the charity stripe. Their inability to score points allowed a Wake team that shot only 39.7% and committed 18 turnovers to hang around, taking advantage of an untimely scoring drought by Rutgers to close things out.
Devin Thomas, who I mentioned was going to be key for Wake Forest, was an absolute force tonight and the Scarlet Knights had no answer for the forward. Besides Thomas scoring 23 points, good for a third of his teams points, Thomas also recorded an impressive 17 rebounds, including six on offense. Mitchell Wilbelkin was the other Demon Deacon starter to impress, hitting four of his seven three pointers on the way to 12 points.
Tonight's loss was another setback for a Rutgers team looking painfully familiar to last year's trainwreck. With losses to St. Johns, Clemson, Creighton and now Wake Forest, the Scarlet Knights have squandered most of their opportunities for somewhat decent wins. Factoring in how poorly they've looked in all three wins and the decisively more challenging Big Ten (even if the conference appears like it could be entering a down year) and it looks like Rutgers is going to be in the Big Ten cellar once again.
Indiana 112, Alcorn State 70
The Hoosiers had a dreadful trip to Maui last week and got a breather tonight against Alcorn State as they prep for Duke in the middle of the week. Of course this game, while a win, is actually more detrimental to the Hoosiers as it does nothing to prepare them for the Blue Devils on Wednesday and will have a negative impact on Indiana's non-conference strength of schedule, something even more notable as the Hoosiers missed out on playing several quality opponents last week thanks to their opening round loss to Wake Forest.
As for tonight's game, the Hoosiers took care of business against a really bad Alcorn State team that is one of the worst in the nation. Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr. went off for the Hoosiers, recording 33 points, while every starter reached double digits. Indiana shot lights out, hitting 57.7% from deep on 26 threes, and limited turnovers to 12. Or in other words, they did everything expected of them. Of course they did this earlier in the year against Eastern Illinois and Austin Peay, but struggled to replicate their success when facing more notable opposition. With Duke coming up we should get a better picture of this Indiana team, with there still being a solid chance the trip to Maui was more of an anomaly than an early warning sign for a disappointing season.
Minnesota 89, Clemson 83
Entering tonight the Gophers have showcased a promising offense with plenty of firepower from outside. Well early on their opponent was the team feeling it from outside, with the Tigers hitting 7 of their 14 three pointers before the break. Even better was the teams trio of starters (Jaron Blossomgame, Jordan Roper and Avry Holmes), who were 7 of 10 from deep in the first half, leading the team with 31 points combined. Luckily for Minnesota, Joey King and Jordan Murphy were able to keep the game within reach as they hit 9 of their 10 field goals, scoring 22 of the Gophers 36 points.
The second half was a bit of a different story, with Minnesota having a decisively better performance on the offensive side of the ball. Even better for Richard Pitino's team was the fact that Clemson couldn't get much going outside of Jaron Blossomgame and Jordan Roper, with the pair scoring 49 of the teams 83 points (no one else reached double digits).
One of the key factors heading down the stretch was the difference in fouls and free throws, with Minnesota drawing 24 fouls (committing only 13) and getting to the charity stripe 30 times. Part of that was free throws down the stretch, but the two teams played pretty similarly and free throws were essentially the deciding factor (each team made 29 field goals, with Clemson actually hitting 14 threes compared to seven for Minnesota). The Gophers benefited greatly from a strong outing from Jordan Murphy off the bench, with the forward scoring 24 points. Joey King and Nate Mason continued to lead the team on offense, each adding 17 points, and Minnesota's 53 point second half performance was enough to come back to knock off the Tigers.