Rutgers hopes for cleaner performance against in-state foe Fairleigh Dickinson
Immediately after his team suffered its 73-67 home loss to Monmouth on Sunday, Rutgers head men's basketball coach Eddie Jordan was adamant on turning the page.
"The third thing I said (to the team) was, 'Your effort and harmony was at an all-time season high,'" Jordan said. "'You gave great effort, we shared the ball, we tried to stay organized.'"
For the third-year head coach, the unfavorable end result from his inexperienced team down to eight available scholarship players was a step up from the previous week's 83-49 pounding at George Washington.
But now, with two more games remaining on the Scarlet Knights' non-conference slate, Jordan hopes they can end their current 2-game skid before the powers of the Big Ten present a bigger challenge starting with Indiana next Wednesday, Dec. 30.
That two-game stretch spanning five days begins when the Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson enter Piscataway from Hackensack for Wednesday night's 7 p.m. tip-off at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, to be streamed on BTN Plus.
With Rutgers (4-7) reeling following its sixth loss in seven games, the prospects of taking on Northeast Conference member FDU (4-6) expects to provide a lighter task against another in-state, mid-major program.
But in order for the Scarlet Knights to stay on the right side of a 10-2 advantage against their counterparts from 42 miles north in the all-time series, they understand the need for a performance to match the aforementioned effort from their last time out on the floor.
"Really, to be honest, this is my dream — to play college basketball and so forth," said freshman guard Corey Sanders, who leads all active Rutgers players in scoring at 12.7 points per game. "... If you're down a player, you gotta play however many minutes coach gives you."
The Scarlet Knights remain without their leading-scorer in junior forward Deshawn Freeman, who provided a key to the lineup as a junior college transfer. He averaged 13.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in the first seven games of the season until a knee injury sidelined him during the week leading up to Seton Hall on Dec. 5.
Adding to that, two more big men critical to Rutgers' post presence in sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (foot) and redshirt freshman forward Ibrahima Diallo (foot) are still out indefinitely.
The circumstances have demanded more out of sophomore forward D.J. Foreman and senior forward/center Greg Lewis. As recent as Sunday against Monmouth, Foreman racked up 31 minutes and Lewis stayed on the floor for a season-high 36 minutes — the second-highest in his four-year career on the Banks.
But against a Fairleigh Dickinson roster averaging a height of roughly 6-foot-4, the opposition favors a forced small lineup from Rutgers, which has featured increased dependence on shooting from guards like Sanders and Mike Williams.
The sophomore complemented Sanders' game-high 16 points against Monmouth, following up with 15 of his own on 5-of-15 shooting, but a pair of key misfires down the stretch on the last pair of opportunities for the Scarlet Knights to complete the comeback against the Hawks spoiled his performance.
Despite missing the decisive shots, the Brooklyn, New York, native, has averaged 12.25 points since a 1-for-10 shooting night against Wake Forest back on Nov. 30.
With a depleted Rutgers rotation, Williams' recent performances have maintained a needed scoring threat and a presence from 3-point range despite a 25.2-percent clip from behind the arc.
But as far as the continued progression for he and his team goes, the focus for Williams and the Scarlet Knights comes full circle with the next step starting against FDU.
"You just gotta get back in the gym tomorrow and just keep practicing because me and Corey (Sanders) are great players," Williams said. "He's a good player, I'm a good player — everybody's a good player and the ball just wasn't bouncing the way we wanted to ... so we just gotta have a short-term memory and get back at it in practice."
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