Similar mistakes cost Rutgers in defeat at Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Turnovers, free throws, perimeter defense.
Throughout the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s three-game losing streak, deficiencies in one or two of these categories have been the difference between wins and losses.
At Minnesota on Jan. 17, the 19 turnovers committed ultimately cost the Scarlet Knights in an otherwise respectable road showing. Three days later against Michigan, struggles at the foul line — Rutgers shot 50 percent from the charity stripe — and poor defending late in the game from beyond the arc was its downfall.
When the Knights faced Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday in Pennsylvania, it was poor execution in all three aspects that resulted in their worst margin of defeat this season, 79-51.
It started with poor perimeter defense.
After the Knights scored three unanswered buckets to start, the Nittany Lions started to find their stroke from beyond the arc, scoring their first 12 points with four 3-pointers.
Despite this, Rutgers still managed to build a three-point lead. Then came the turnovers. With just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half, the Knights turned the ball over five times, four of the Penn State steals led to easy fast break points.
Add in five missed foul shots and the Nittany Lions’ continued hot streak from 3, and there lies the moment the game got away.
“I mean, once again, turnovers and free throws,” said senior forward Kadeem Jack. “Those are things that are definitely something that can’t happen.”
Trailing by 13 at the half, Rutgers faired no better in the second and finished the game with 16 turnovers and 6-of-14 from the foul line.
Penn State ended with 10 made 3s on 50 percent shooting.
“It got away from us,” said senior guard Myles Mack. “We weren’t doing the right things. Coach told us we need to execute offensively and defensively before the game started, and we didn’t do it. So, it was hard for us to even stay in the game.”
While consistent play has been an issue for the Knights all season, locker room problems are becoming a relatively new complication.
Nearly one month after Jack was benched during the team’s Big Ten opener against Northwestern Dec. 30 for missing a team breakfast, sophomore Junior Etou was absent from the trip to “Happy Valley” for what head coach Eddie Jordan announced as a failure to meet team expectations.
The sophomore forward came into the season expected to be a consistent contributor offensively, but after a strong start to the season, Etou has struggled to find his form averaging less than four points per game in conference play.
Though Jordan declined to discuss the details of Etou missing the trip, the Republic of Congo native has been rumored to be having attitude problems both on and off the court.
Etou’s defensive presence may have saved Rutgers some face against the Nittany Lions, but now in his second year in charge Jordan has made it clear that no player is above the team.
“Yeah, he’s a good rebounder. He’s a great defender for us,” Jordan said on if they missed Etou on the court. “But he has to take care of business the way he’s supposed to on campus and in basketball.”
Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse for the Knights, freshman guard Mike Williams’ injury capped off the miserable afternoon.
After burying a jumper with 6:13 remaining and the game out of reach, Williams landed awkwardly on his left leg and fell to the ground grabbing his ankle in visible pain.
Williams, who averages 6.9 points per game, was eventually helped off the court by his teammates but Jordan is still waiting to hear the extent of the injury.
“No, I just came in, talked to the team and [Mike] was on the table and we’ll find out in a little bit when we leave here,” Jordan said postgame.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.