Rutgers hopes extra rest will help as wounded Knights host Michigan State
All Myles Mack could think about Saturday after a 79-51 rout at Penn State was how quickly the Rutgers men’s basketball team would have to respond from its four-game losing skid.
That was because a matchup with Michigan State was looming in the near future.
“We’ve got the game in two days, so we’ve just got to focus on the next task for us and learn from the film,” the senior guard said postgame.
Turns out the Scarlet Knights have had a couple more days to prepare than expected.
After New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency Monday in anticipation of the impending blizzard, Rutgers’ first-ever meeting with Michigan State at the Louis Brown Athletic Center was postponed until Thursday at 6 p.m.
The Knights (10-11, 2-6) sorely needed a victory with their chips limited.
During his Big Ten teleconference Monday, head coach Eddie Jordan announced that freshman guard Mike Williams will be out 10-14 days with a severe ankle sprain. Williams suffered the injury late in the second half Saturday, falling awkwardly on his left leg after sinking a long two-pointer.
As Rutgers’ first guard off the bench, Williams is averaging 6.9 points in 23.7 points per game and has proven to be one of the Knights’ few efficient ball-handlers outside of Mack.
“We’re going to miss him,” Jordan said. “He’s one of our best defenders –– if not our best defender on the perimeter –– and he’s a tough kid. We like his demeanor on the floor. He brings some toughness to us.”
An extra two days of preparation not only gave Jordan a chance to explore contingency plans, but also likely aided the recovery of another key asset.
Bishop Daniels, who has emerged as Rutgers’ third-leading scorer, left the Penn State game with a strained hip flexor. Jordan tabbed the 6-foot-3 junior guard as questionable Monday, saying, “He may try to give us a few minutes” against the Spartans.
With Daniels having 45 more hours to heal his hip, the Knights hope he will be able to play close to regular minutes.
Either way, expect Mack to log a full 40 minutes with Williams sidelined.
“If Bishop doesn’t play and obviously Mike won’t play, then we’ll bring one of our forwards to a guard spot -- whether it’s [senior] Malick Kone or [junior] Kerwin Okoro -- and we’ll go from there,” Jordan said.
It also helps Rutgers’ cause that Jordan expects sophomore wing Junior Etou to return from a one-game suspension for “a failure to meet team expectations.”
Etou is averaging 29.6 minutes per game as one of the Knights’ better defenders and rebounders.
“Everything is back to normal,” Jordan said. “He understands that there are more things to being a college student-athlete than playing basketball: from behavior, to demeanor, to approach, to taking care of business. So, hopefully we won’t have any recurring problems.”
Yet, an array of on-court problems may resurface against Michigan State (13-7, 4-3).
Last time out at the RAC, Rutgers mustered only 50 points in a four-point loss to a battered Michigan roster. The Big Ten’s worst field goal and three-point shooting team succumbed to the Wolverines’ 2-3 zone and trapping defense, which has proven to be Rutgers’ biggest detriment in conference play.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo told reporters earlier this week that in light of his team’s recent fouling issues, the Spartans will consider playing more zone than they traditionally have.
Ranked 18th nationally in the pre-season AP Poll, Michigan State has seen its stock sink because of sporadic shooting coupled with the 15th-toughest schedule in the country, according to ESPN.
But as far as Rutgers is concerned, another physical grind likely awaits at the RAC. The Spartans top the conference in rebounding and are fourth in the nation with 17.6 assists per game.
They also feature three starters averaging double figures, including 6-foot-6 wing Branden Dawson, who averages a double-double with 11.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
“Hopefully we can stay out of foul trouble, no one else gets hurt and our top-six guys can carry some heavy minutes,” Jordan said.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @gregp_j and @TargumSports on Twitter.