Rutgers returns home versus weakened Michigan
The last time the Rutgers men’s basketball team played at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, it celebrated amongst the Rutgers crowd in celebration of its historic victory over then-No. 4 Wisconsin, 67-62.
It was the highest ranked team the Scarlet Knights had ever beaten in program history and gave them momentum entering a two-game road test.
But after losing both games, Rutgers (10-9, 2-4) returns to the RAC still in search of its third Big Ten win as it hosts Michigan Tuesday night.
The losses were frustrating not only because it halted the energy gained from a momentous upset of the Badgers, but also because of the close margin of defeat.
Against No. 14 Maryland on Jan. 14, the Knights led for long stretches only for missed foul shots and poor rebounding to cost them at the end of the game.
Then, three days later at Minnesota, a combination of 31 points from Gophers guard Andre Hollins and 19 turnovers proved the difference in an 89-80 shootout loss — Minnesota’s first Big Ten win of the season.
Although the Knights competed and have done well to shake off some of the negative perceptions of last year’s team, the losses have stung.
Hosting a Michigan (11-7, 4-2) team that has had plenty of speed bumps, the need to get back to winning ways is high.
“Every game there’s a sense of urgency,” said senior forward Kadeem Jack. “We want to get out there and get a win and it’s no different today. We definitely want to go out there and pull this one out and secure our home floor and get this win.”
Like Wisconsin did with the injury to star forward Frank Kaminsky, the Wolverines limp into Piscataway.
Star guard Caris LeVert was ruled out for the remainder of the season on Sunday after suffering a left foot injury in Saturday’s, 56-54, victory against Northwestern.
The 6-foot-7 NBA prospect led Michigan in scoring at 14.9 points per game while also averaging team highs in rebounds (4.9) and assists (3.7) per game.
“That’s their best player right now,” senior guard Myles Mack said of LeVert. “Unfortunately [he got injured] but people are going to step up and we just have to know their sets and know what they do best.”
Even with Levert, the Wolverines have been underwhelming this season. Starting the season ranked in the top 25, back-to-back losses in early December to N.J.I.T. and Eastern Michigan followed by a drubbing at then No. 3 Arizona has seen their stock plummet.
But Michigan has managed to hold its own in conference play and currently sit at fifth in the Big Ten standings.
Rutgers on the other hand, sits 11th in the conference standings after six games after collapsing towards the finish line towards the end of the game.
Part of the reason, according to Jordan, has been the overuse of Mack. Averaging just over 36 minutes per game, Mack scored a team-high 26 points against the Gophers but committed a game-high 7 turnovers, which Jordan partially attributed to fatigue.
“[Myles] needs help from me. I need to get him out of the game,” Jordan said. “He’s making fatigue plays, he thinks he’s not tired but there were about four or five fatigue plays where he’s dying on the screen or he’s not executing. He’s not focused enough mentally, and it’s not his fault, it’s my fault. I’ve got to get him out and I just wish somebody could go in and keep us organized, and that’s what we need first when he comes out of the game.”
Normally the team’s best attribute, they encountered another issue with their defensive end, allowing Minnesota to explode for 89 points — the most Rutgers has allowed all season.
Having worked on defensive shape for a majority of Monday’s practice, the Knights expect an improved defensive performance.
Facing Michigan also brings back memories to the 1976 Final Four game where the Wolverines ended Rutgers’ and Jordan’s — then a player — undefeated season.
Although the names on the respective school’s jerseys remain the same, Jordan played off the significance of facing his former foes.
“No, not from the old days, no,” Jordan said on whether the name Michigan meant anything to him. “… It’s just so long ago, so many things happen. It is what it was and we enjoyed our experiences and our fun times but we’ve talked about that game so many times it’s just old news.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.