Nightmare continues for Rutgers with ninth-straight loss
Just when it was becoming difficult to envision life getting much worse for the Rutgers men's basketball team, rock bottom came calling on Thursday night.
The Scarlet Knights couldn't hit the broad side of a barn in a 61-51 loss to Purdue at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, shooting 33.3 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from the free throw line.
Rutgers' (10-16, 2-11) nine-game losing skid matches the program's longest winless streak since the 2009-10 season.
"It wasn't pretty," head coach Eddie Jordan said postgame. "They did a good job defensively. We just need to get some package where we can rely on some scorers. We know if people take away [senior guard] Myles [Mack], we have a hard time doing things. We've just got to get better, and other guys have to step up and execute better."
That happened over the final six minutes, as the Knights trimmed a 19-point lead to eight on senior forward Kadeem Jack's fallaway jump shot with 3:29 remaining.
Jack came alive down the stretch with 12 second-half points. So did the likes of sophomore wing Kerwin Okoro, freshman forward D.J. Foreman and freshman center Shaquille Doorson, who contributed 11 points off the bench over the final 20 minutes.
With the Knights down 15, Foreman drilled a three-pointer from the corner and Okoro drained a tough layup on consecutive possessions to jumpstart the rally.
"We found that groove that we were looking for all game," Jack said. "I think this is a real good team –– real good groups of guys –– so nobody's going to quit. We keep fighting and clawing."
Unfortunately for Rutgers, the first 34 minutes still counted, and it was yet again too deep of a hole to climb out of.
Purdue (16-9, 8-4) went on a mini 7-2 surge to effectively squash any chance the Knights had at storming back.
Eight different Boilermakers scored on the night. Seven-foot center A.J. Hammons led the way with a game-high 17 points, also proving to be a steady defensive presence with seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
Still, had Rutgers not missed 10-of-19 free throw attempts, this was a winnable game.
Purdue shot just 40 percent from the field –– well beyond its season average of 46 percent, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten.
"The defensive effort was good," Mack said. "We got back to the paint and transitioned, and they didn't get a lot of transition points. I think we knew their sets well."
Purdue evidently telegraphed Rutgers' schemes even more.
The Knights scored only 16 points in the first half –– their lowest output in conference play –– as Mack and Jack combined for just two made field goals.
Save for two three-pointers from sophomore wing Junior Etou, Rutgers converted just 2-of-12 attempts on two-pointers in the opening period.
The Boilermakers never even had to resort to a zone defense, which has been the blueprint for stymieing the Knights throughout their Big Ten grind.
"They're very disciplined defensively. They switch a lot," Jordan said. "So, again, we can't get them caught in rotations and get people rolling to the basket. They stayed out on you 1-on-1, and we just don't have 1-on-1 players to break you down except for Myles and Kadeem in the post. We just don't have those types of players right now."
After Mack evened the score at 12 on his first bucket –– a teardrop in the lane –– with 12:38 left in the first half, Purdue quietly went on a 15-1 run to silence 5,805 fans within the RAC.
The Knights didn't hit a field goal the rest of the period, ultimately going 14 minutes and 12 seconds without one until junior guard Bishop Daniels' layup early in the second half.
"We were real stagnant," Jack said. "We couldn't get into the flow of things, and it just got away from us."
But through the endless problems and nightmarish stretch since Rutgers' last win Jan. 11, Jordan and the Knights insist morale remains high within the locker room.
Given the sticky situation currently engulfing in-state rival Seton Hall's own downward plunge, perseverance is the best going for Rutgers right now.
"We're still out there playing for each other," Mack said. "We're just trying to come together as one and fight until the end."
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @gregp_j and @TargumSports on Twitter.