October 22, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers looks to snap skid against winless Central Connecticut

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Corey Sanders flushes a two-hand dunk Dec. 5 against Seton Hall at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. The freshman guard said after the 84-55 loss that Rutgers collectively needs to step up. The Knights' next chance comes Tuesday night in a 6 p.m. tip-off at the RAC hosting winless Central Connecticut.

As Corey Sanders slouched in his cushioned chair in the corner of the locker room at the Louis Brown Athletic Center following the Rutgers men's basketball team's 84-55 pounding at the hands of in-state rival Seton Hall, the freshman guard was blunt on how he and his teammates need to step up.

"We just need more players to step up," Sanders said. "... Right now, that's not happening. We're still not together as a unit, so until that happens, I don't know what we're gonna do."

Luckily for the Scarlet Knights' second-leading scorer (12.6 points per game) and leading distributor (26 assists), the level of difficulty should lighten when he and his team return to the hardwood Tuesday night. 

The Knights (3-5) aim to bring a 4-game losing streak to a halt in their 6 p.m. tip-off against Central Connecticut at the RAC.

The Blue Devils (0-7), members of the Northeast Conference, enter Piscataway still searching for their first win one month into the 2015-16 season.

Examining the obvious talent gap between the two teams, Central Connecticut serves as the most winnable game for Rutgers in an upcoming three-game stretch in non-conference play that still features a polished George Washington team sporting a 7-1 record to headline a hot start after reaching the NIT last year with 22 wins.

Following the trip to D.C. on Saturday, the Knights host Monmouth (5-3) at home. Against the Hawks, who have beaten then-No. 17 Notre Dame and Southern California in a talented 2015 Advocate Invitational to start the season, Rutgers has its hands full before Big Ten play starts up Dec. 30 against Indiana (6-3).

Despite the implications of the upcoming stretch, Eddie Jordan remains focused on the game-by-game improvement of an inexperienced roster currently featuring nine scholarship players.

Without junior forward Deshawn Freeman (sore knee, out) and sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (foot, out indefinitely), the third-year head coach acknowledges the struggles of playing with limited reign.

"Challenges of coaching a young team to be good — it's a challenge — and I'm sticking with them," Jordan said. "... It's about learning. We're not playing the score, we're learning. Don't make bad mistakes. If you make a mistake, learn from it."

Although the Blue Devils mirror the Knights' production statistically with 66.9 points per game and 39.1 rebounds per game with an offense highlighted by leading-scorer Khalen Cumberlander's 14.4 points per contest, Rutgers has played better competition in comparison to Central Connecticut's slate featuring six mid-major programs in seven games.

The Knights, meanwhile, have played a pair of ACC opponents, among others, off to solid starts in Clemson (6-2) and Wake Forest (6-2). Both squads have given Rutgers trouble in the midst of their four-game skid with losses to St. John's (5-3) and Creighton (5-3) sandwiched between.

But given the reality of the losing streak, the bottom line is that none of it matters.

Sophomore guard Mike Williams, who bounced back from a 1-for-10 shooting effort with six points in the narrow 69-68 defeat to Wake Forest by answering with a team-high 16 points against Seton Hall, doesn't make excuses for the current circumstances plaguing Rutgers to begin the season.

Williams knows it's about more than one player stepping up to fill the void. And for the Knights to get it going back in the right direction, Williams understands the urgency they need to have in order to come back together to snap the skid.

"When one of our teammates goes down, another one gotta step up and show us he's going to take the slack," Williams said. "And our team's not just one person, you know, it's everybody. When one person falls, we gotta become stronger."

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Garrett Stepien

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