Rutgers, Mississippi State, Gotham Classic
Photo Courtesy of Gotham Classic/Gazelle Group

Rutgers falls to Mississippi State at Gotham Classic in Newark

Behind stifling defense and stellar post-play, Mississippi State defeated Rutgers, 70-60, in the 12th installment of the Gotham Classic at the Prudential Center on Saturday afternoon.

The opening minutes of the matchup featured numerous stops due to shot clock issues, checking whether a two-point shot was a three-point shot, and other odd occurrences early on. Going into the first media timeout, Rutgers faced a one-point deficit as Rutgers kept the pressure on the Bulldogs. However, Mississippi State was able to get easy, open-shot attempts due to overpressure from the Scarlet Knights.

Mississippi State went through multiple scoring draughts of more than two minutes and almost nine minutes without a field goal. However, Rutgers could not capitalize as they led by just five at the eight-minute media timeout. The Scarlet Knights went 1-of-7 from the field during the Bulldogs' empty possessions, which prevented the game from getting out of hand early. Unfortunately, that returned to haunt Rutgers as Mississippi State went on a 10-0 scoring run as the tables turned, and the Scarlet Knights went on for over five minutes without a field goal.

The first half felt like a heavyweight fight as the physicality increased, and the officials started to let the rough and tough play continue. Jimmy Bell Jr. was dominant down low for the Bulldogs, scoring nine points in the opening half.

As the first-half clock was winding down, Aundre Hyatt picked up a steal and converted a three-pointer at the horn to send the game tied at 29 at the half, and the pro-Rutgers crowd had something to cheer about after an up-and-down first half.

Rutgers started slow in the second half as Mississippi State jumped to a 37-31 lead at the 16:02 mark. Bell Jr. remained an issue inside as Rutgers senior center Clifford Omoruyi picked up his fourth foul just four minutes into the second half. For the Scarlet Knights, nothing was falling as the team was unable to find quality shots in the half-court, which the Bulldogs exploited time and time again.

Down 39-33, Noah Fernandes converted a three-point play to bring Rutgers to within three. But once again, Bell Jr. came up big, making his three-point play to push the Mississippi State lead back to six.

"It was an emphasis [to get the ball to Bell] for a majority of the day," Mississippi State head coach Chris Jans said. "I thought early, we were missing him. He was open, but for whatever reason, we had a hard time making the passes…But in the second half, [that changed]. He was terrific. He was our anchor today."

At the under 12-minute media timeout, Rutgers was shooting just 25 percent from the field and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. During the stretch where the Bulldogs stretched the lead to 11, Rutgers was in the middle of a two-and-a-half-minute scoring drought and just 1-for-7 from the field.

A Cameron Matthews alley-oop made the score 54-43 as Rutgers looked for anything to get back into the game. Derek Simpson nailed two straight foul line jumpers to cut the Rutgers' deficit to nine with 4:06 left in regulation as the Scarlet Knights attempted to come from behind. Unfortunately, Rutgers could not get back as Mississippi State continued to press, and Rutgers fell to 7-4 on the season.

Hyatt led the way for Rutgers with 15 points and six rebounds. Omoruyi was held to three points as he battled foul trouble all game.

"He was in foul trouble today and that was really tough. He never really got into the flow at all," said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. "We played on some runs without him, and when I left him in, he got two quick fouls right away. We couldn't get a break today and obviously, we need Cliff. He's very good, but it's a team game and it's on me to make sure he doesn't get into foul trouble. We have to play better as a group and I have to do better."

Bell Jr. finished a tremendous game for Mississippi State with 17 points and 18 rebounds. Matthews also picked up a double-double for the Bulldogs with 16 points and 11 rebounds in a game where Mississippi State outrebounded Rutgers 47-26.

"We didn't do a great job on the backboard and obviously that led to free throws," said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. "We played an NCAA tournament team, and I told our guys if we can find a way for 40 minutes, then we would have a chance. This was a big, physical basketball game and we didn't take care of the backboards the way we needed to."