Rutgers lifts effort, lacks scoring necessary to defeat Indiana
Eddie Jordan’s statement to his starting lineup following the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s embarrassing defeat at Iowa last Thursday was crystal clear.
Play better or risk being pulled five minutes into the game.
To their credit, the Scarlet Knights responded and even led by three points in the opening five minutes over a storied Indiana program making its first ever visit to the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
But despite the early energy shown by both the players and the 7,402 sold-out crowd in attendance, the Hoosiers matched Rutgers stride for stride.
For as desperate as the Knights were to end their now 11-game losing streak, Indiana was just as determined to come out on top.
The Hoosiers had dropped their first Big Ten home game of the season to Purdue three days prior, and vying for an NCAA Tournament berth, a loss to Rutgers could have been detrimental.
It’s a role the Knights have become accustomed to with every team marking them as a must-win on its calendar.
It also hasn’t helped that seven of their last eight opponents have entered their matchups coming off a loss, decreasing the odds of them sneaking up for an upset like they did against conference leaders Wisconsin in what seems like centuries ago.
In a conference where eight of the 14 teams are being considered for the NCAA Tournament, Rutgers has experienced first-hand where its place is on the totem pole.
“It’s a very hard league, very tough. Good coaches, good players,” Jordan said. “Last year we were able to survive (to) a certain degree because we beat some teams that were at the bottom of the league. There are no such teams like that here. … And it’s just the way it is. Teams are good, and we’re not ready to be in this race right now.”
While the team’s struggles have been well-documented, senior forward Kadeem Jack’s continued slump has begun to attract attention.
The Knights’ second leading scorer managed just 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting before fouling out with just over 14 minutes remaining in the second half.
It was the third time in four games that Jack was held to single-digits in points and the second straight game where he has played limited minutes in the second half.
Jack managed just 15 minutes and tied a season low 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting in the team’s last game against the Hawkeyes.
Having not won a game in over a month and with just three games remaining in his college career, perhaps Jack’s confidence has dipped.
The 6-foot-9 co-captain was not made available for comment postgame, but fellow senior guard Myles Mack said the pair does their best to focus on other things.
“We talk and as close as we’ve gotten [these past four years] we just talk about staying in the gym and getting ready for whatever’s going to happen for us next so … that’s it,” Mack said. “We just talk about working on our game.”
If there were any positives to gain from the Knights’ latest shellacking, Greg Lewis’ performance was it.
The 6-foot-9 junior center finished with a team-high 13 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes, 11 of which came in the first half.
The point total is a career-high for Lewis, who also set a new career-high in made field goals with five.
Lewis scored 10 points against the Hoosiers on Jan. 31, which coincidentally was also the last time he finished in double-digits in scoring.
Though Indiana’s overall smaller lineup may have had something to do with it, Lewis had no clear answer for why he has been so productive against the team.
“Uh, nothing, really,” Lewis said with a smile and a slight chuckle. “They’re a good team and I just wanted to play my hardest and give a lot of effort tonight.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.