Rutgers’ Pikiell: ‘Michigan's The Best Team I’ve Seen in My Five Years'
Rutgers brought the energy to Thursday night’s game at Michigan from the outset, forcing the Wolverines to earn everything they got on offense. The Scarlet Knights fell short in a 71-64 loss, but head coach Steve Pikiell was pleased with a lot of what he saw from his team.
U-M led by as many as 17, 56-39 with 11:52 remaining, before going cold from the floor. The Scarlet Knights chipped away but never really made a game of it in the second half, Michigan's defense holding them in check during a scoring drought Rutgers couldn’t capitalize on.
“You have to make shots in a game like this,” Pikiell said. “I think we had some of our opportunities, but tip of a hat to them. That Michigan team is for real. They’re really good. They’ve got size, playmakers, wings that can drive it. They really share the game. They do a really good job.
“I thought our effort was great. I thought we played really hard from start to finish. We’ve just got to make some shots in a game like that, but tip of the hat to Michigan. Very good.”
Rutgers started strong, making tough midrange shots against a U-M defense geared to take away the rim and the three-point line. The Scarlet Knights broke out to an 11-6 lead before Michigan’s offense started to click.
The Wolverines' size helped make a difference. They notched 18 second-chance points while out-rebounding Rutgers 40-27, making the most of their nine offensive rebounds.
“They’ve done that all year. We had 15 points on turnovers to their two, so we beat them in that category,” Pikiell noted. “But they’re big; they’re physical. We missed a lot of opportune layups I thought could have changed things. I thought we had some good looks, too, that could have made it a little interesting.
“But … good basketball team. That’s as good a team as I’ve played in my five years as a coach in this league. On the road, you just have to play a little bit better, but in the second half, we outscored them. They got too many fast-break points. I thought that really hurt us, especially in the first half when we were making a little run. But they’re a good basketball team. They really are.”
His team shot 40 percent for the game, only 3-for-12 from three-point range, and couldn’t connect on the midrange jumpers in the second half.
“That’s what they do. They’re really hard to finish around the rim,” Pikiell continued. “They give you midrange, and we’re a good midrange shooting team. They just didn’t go today. You saw when we got to the rim, it was really hard to finish at the rim. That’s the ost efficient defensive team in our league, and efficient on the offensive end, too, and you can see why. They were good tonight.
“I think we missed eight layups in first half, some open threes, timely that could have helped us, too. But we played hard. That’s a really good basketball team, but all teams in our league are good. They just happen to be an elite team with size. The way they share the ball with their three NBA prospects, they cause many problems for you in a lot of different areas. Against them, there’s not a lot of margin for error.”
But he was pleased with his team’s fight and the way they defended in both halves. You won’t see many teams with a 6-10 wing (Franz Wagner, 20 points) who can put it on the floor, finish and distribute like Wagner did Thursday, he noted.
“It’s hard to simulate that team in practice. They go full speed and have got a lot of weapons,” he said. “Every single guy is a three-point threat and then two seven-footers in the paint.
“Once we settled down, we got ourselves into a good groove there defensively and were able to shut them down. But you’ve got to do both against this team.”
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