Rutgers falls short on home floor in 73-67 loss to Monmouth
PISCATAWAY — As undermanned as the double-digit underdog Rutgers men’s basketball team was entering its afternoon tilt with Monmouth on Sunday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, the Scarlet Knights had every last reason to defend their home court against their in-state counterparts.
Missing the likes of junior forward Deshawn Freeman (knee), sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (foot) and redshirt freshman forward Ibrahima Diallo (foot) forced head coach Eddie Jordan to run with a smaller lineup as the Hawks flew into Piscataway riding the momentum of their recent rise to national stardom as college basketball’s darlings.
But the shortcomings of Rutgers’ 73-67 slippery loss to Monmouth leave more questions than answers. Two non-conference games now remain before a loaded Big Ten slate begins with the conference opener against Indiana lingering on Dec. 30.
“First of all, we have a game on Wednesday,” Jordan said, referring to the Dec. 23 matchup with Fairleigh Dickinson. “So we’re gonna prepare for the game on Wednesday. And the next two days, we’re going to work on some things we didn’t do well.”
The third-year head coach picked away from the positives of his inexperienced team’s sixth loss in its past seven times out on the floor, but the sting of a winnable game against a mid-major opponent from down the Garden State Parkway in West Long Branch still resonates with the State University of New Jersey’s men’s basketball program.
Despite a large and loud contingent of Hawks fans making the short drive up from the Jersey Shore, the RAC came surging to life from both crowds with 6,637 on hand in a hotly-contested back-and-forth matchup.
The Knights (4-7) sliced their way back into the game late in the second half after a double-digit deficit peaked at 13 points midway through the period, threatening to take control of things in a 65-65 deadlock off Mike Williams’ free throw to tie the score with 2:17 remaining.
But down the stretch of the most pivotal point in the game, the sophomore guard and Rutgers ultimately couldn’t convert on either of their final possessions.
“We executed like we wanted to and the shots just wasn’t falling,” said freshman guard Corey Sanders, who had a game-high 16 points and four assists. “I mean, it’s nothing we can really do about that but keep trying to execute like we did down the stretch and make shots. And when you makes shots, you win the game.”
With a 30.2-percent clip on 19-of-63 shooting from the field, the Knights failed to hold up that end of the bargain.
After senior guard Bishop Daniels knocked down a jumper to bring the tie back to 67 apiece with 1:32 remaining, it ended up as the last bucket for Rutgers.
The Hawks flew away on 6-0 run to end the game, taking advantage of the Knights’ failures on their last two possessions.
Williams missed long on the game-tying 3-point attempt from the right wing before Sanders’ attempt on a potential game-tying trey from the top of the key rattled out with 14 seconds to play.
Williams’ 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting and Daniels’ 12 points off the bench fueled a forced small lineup from Rutgers, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for Monmouth’s lopsided 42-14 advantage on points in the paint.
Nor was it enough to slow down the Hawks’ up-tempo flight in transition, unable to keep up with a 14-2 deficit on fast break points, where shifty point guard Justin Robinson’s team-high 14 points and Deon Jones’s 12-point clip headlined a balanced Monmouth attack.
Thrust into a larger role in the post against the Hawks’ big men on both sides of the ball, 6-foot-8 sophomore forward D.J. Foreman described the Knights’ struggles down low from his vantage point.
“I missed a lot of easy layups in the beginning,” said Foreman, who had just six points on 2-of-8 shooting to go with 11 rebounds. “That’s sort of my fault. I take some responsibility for that. I shouldn’t have missed so many … you get those layups back and it’s a ballgame for us, so I just have to get my confidence back for the next game.”
With Fairleigh-Dickinson on Wednesday and UMass-Lowell on Dec. 28 leading the last two opportunities for Rutgers to scrounge up a pair of victories and edge its way back to .500 before venturing off on the Big Ten gauntlet, Foreman isn’t the only one in the locker room looking to tilt things back in the right direction.
As the window on non-conference play closes, the consensus to get back on track is understood and evident to the Knights as far as effort is concerned.
“We showed a lot of heart, a lot of growth down the stretch,” Sanders said. “I mean, we can’t ask for nothing else. We got back in the game and just a couple plays short.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.