The Scarlet Knights (16-7, 8-4) ground out a tough, defensive game at Madison Square against the Spartans (14-9, 6-6) Saturday afternoon, pulling ahead in the second half to expel Sparty from the Garden and win 66-51.

The Spartans found their rhythm late in the first half as both teams struggled as much against the other’s defense as the time clock.  Rutgers was only 2 for 15 and Michigan State 3 for 13.  Rutgers is a defensive team, but the Spartans gave them their own medicine.  The Scarlet Knights went to the locker room at halftime having scored only 19 points, their lowest total for the season.

Add to that, Rutgers was only 24% for shooting and Mawot Mag left the court with an injured right leg early in the first half.  An inauspicious start.

Michigan State meanwhile had finally ground out a modest lead, 25-19 after a 6-0 run.  A layup by Jaxon Kohler during the final minutes of the first, followed by a Joey Hauser jumper scarcely more than thirty seconds later gave the Spartans the lead.  Tyson Walker stole the ball and Jaden Aikens went for the buzzer-beating layup. 

But Rutgers came out back out on the court fighting; Paul Mulcahy went for a layup and the second half opened 25-21.

Two free throws by Mady Sissoko and layups by A.J. Hoggard and Walker pushed Rutgers further down the hole, 31-23. 

This was the calm before the scarlet storm, evidently.  Offensive and defensive rebounds and two layups by Clifford Omoruyi shaved the Spartan lead to 31-29.  In a game where the range was difficult to find, a three-point jumper by Mulcahy tied the score 33-33. 

The Spartans pushed the Knights down again with a three-pointer by Aikens and two free throws scored by Hoggard.

At 6:22 Caleb McConnell shot for three, putting Rutgers ahead 42-40.  This began the Rutgers rally and the Spartans did not lead again.  Mulcahy free throws added eight points to Rutgers’ total.  A foul-plagued Spartan second half also sent Cam Spencer and Derek Simpson to the line. 

The game ended 61-55, Rutgers victory.

The Spartans take on Maryland next, Tues, Feb. 7 at 9:00 P.M.

Photo courtesy of The Detroit Free Press