Knights look to build off win
The Rutgers men’s basketball team, to say the least, hit some rough times.
Seven of the Scarlet Knights’ 10 different Big East opponents have held a ranking at one point in the season.
As a result, entering Tuesday night’s game against Seton Hall, Rutgers had built up a six-game losing streak, several of which senior wing Dane Miller admitted the Knights could have won.
That streak ended Tuesday, as Rutgers — after nearly losing a 13-point lead — topped the Pirates by two points.
“It feels good to get a victory,” said head coach Mike Rice after the game. “It takes the pressure off your shoulders, so to speak, so maybe now we’ll play a little looser and a little better.”
But that win was about more than getting rid of the pressure.
After beginning the Big East season 3-2, the Knights largely lost the feeling of what winning a game, especially a conference game, is like.
After defeating a Big East opponent in in-state rival Seton Hall on national television, that feeling has likely returned.
“All we needed was one win,” Miller said Tuesday. “We [needed to] taste a little bit of blood and get that out of the way. Now we’re locked in. We know if we play together like we did [against Seton Hall] and we play hungry defensively, we can win the game.”
Miller acknowledged while teams were playing well against them, most of the Knights’ issues were self-inflicted.
Aside from sophomore guard Eli Carter’s ill-advised layup that failed to go in to allow the Pirates to pull within one shot with seconds left, there were no glaring mistakes.
Instead, Rutgers recorded more assists than turnovers for only the fourth time in Big East play and posted double-digit blocks for the first time against a conference opponent.
“I think that’s what this team has to be,” Rice said Tuesday. “I thought we shared the game. I liked our shots in the second half. We had some wide open shots, we had some layups, we got fouled and we kept attacking.”
For the rest of the season, the Knights’ schedule will be decidedly easier than it had been in the previous conference games, apart from matchups with Marquette and Georgetown.
But that does not mean each team will be a pushover.
That begins tomorrow when Rutgers travels to Chicago to face DePaul.
Although the Blue Demons (10-14, 1-10) have only one conference win to their credit, they have shown they can play with tougher opponents.
They took No. 21 Notre Dame to overtime twice and fell to Cincinnati by only five points.
Rutgers is also one of their most realistic chances left to win a game, as five of their last six games following Saturday are against teams in the top half of the Big East.
Perhaps Rutgers’ biggest advantage is its most recent problem — scoring.
The Knights have not been able to put up strong offensive numbers in recent games, but the Blue Demons post the worst scoring defense in the conference.
They allow opponents an average of 73.8 points per game, seven more points than St. John’s, the second-worst team in the category.
As long as Rutgers can keep junior guard Brandon Young and junior forward Cleveland Melvin — DePaul’s two leading scorers — off the stat sheet, odds are in its favor to post its first back-to-back wins in more than a month.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.