Rutgers limps into midweek matchup at No. 3 Maryland
The past week for the Rutgers men's basketball team has been one big headache.
As if entering hostile territory for Wednesday night's 7 p.m. tip-off against No. 3 Maryland at the 19,900-seat Xfinity Center on Big Ten Network wasn't enough of a daunting task, the Scarlet Knights' recent struggles have been mounting on the court and off the court.
Rutgers (6-9, 0-2) received a pounding in last Saturday's 79-57 loss at Wisconsin, losing Jonathan Laurent in the process.
The freshman forward bumped heads with an opposing player as the Badgers ran away in the second half, initially questioning his game availability for when the Knights trek down to College Park and face-off with the Terrapins in their midweek Big Ten matchup.
In his most recent media availability during Monday morning's Big Ten Men's Basketball Coaches Teleconference, Eddie Jordan said that Laurent did not have concussion symptoms and that the training staff had not formally diagnosed the injury as a concussion.
A request for comment on Tuesday was not immediately returned.
Jordan said on Monday that the Orlando, Florida, native did not practice and would try to participate a day later on Tuesday, but was not seen fit to play in Wednesday's game.
"As much as we're undermanned with injuries ... we're still in great spirit," Jordan said on Monday. "We're in games and I love our guys' competitiveness, their spirit ... We're undersized and it's a heck of a challenge for us, and we're looking forward to going to Maryland."
Injuries have been common, to say the least, lately in Piscataway.
While redshirt freshman forward Ibrahima Diallo (foot) was the most recent Knight to suffer an indefinite injury, junior forward Deshawn Freeman (knee) and sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (foot) have been sidelined for an extended period of time.
Although Jordan mentioned that the medical staff would look at Freeman on Wednesday and Doorson on Friday during their respective re-evaluations, reality hinges on the fact that the Knights will be without their 6-foot-6 forward in Laurent — one who has been forced to slide from small forward in order to fill in at power forward and center off the bench.
With Maryland (13-1, 2-0) sliding up to No. 3 in Monday's recently released AP Top 25, Rutgers inevitably faces what is easily its greatest challenge yet.
The Terps enter beaming with loads of balanced talent up and down the roster, giving Mark Turgeon his best start in his five years at the helm in College Park.
While Rutgers contested Maryland tightly last year on the road and on the home hardwood of the Rutgers Athletic Center, there is little doubt to the idea that this Terps squad is far better than its previous product.
Leading-scorer and Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Melo Trimble (15.1 points per game) returns for his sophomore season, accompanied by Duke graduate transfer Rasheed Sulaimon (10.6 points per game). With that duo forming, Rutgers has to defend against a new-and-improved balance in Maryland's backcourt.
"His maturity is great, man. I'm hoping he maybe doesn't even wanna finish the second (spring) semester, maybe goes pro real quick before we play him," Jordan said of Trimble. "He's really good, obviously one of the top-5 ... point guards in the country — probably top-3. He'll probably say he's No. 1 and I wouldn't argue that either."
While Rutgers remains lacking in size and depth, Jordan's focus stays entrenched on what he can get out of what is left of his young team.
Much of that begins with Corey Sanders, who surprisingly sat at Wisconsin after his 15-point second half days earlier against Indiana last Wednesday at the RAC.
Sanders, who had previously played 36 minutes in back-to-back games between Indiana and UMass-Lowell, said after the loss to the Hoosiers that his competitive nature for the game fueled his desire to stay on the court and fight alongside his teammates.
"I feel good. I'd go back out there right now if I could," Sanders said. "I love the game. I love the game and everything that comes with it. I hate losing, but I know it comes with the game."
Jordan, who cited a "bump in the road on the path to maturity" for the freshman guard after the loss to Wisconsin, said on his teleconference that Sanders has "some humble pie he needs to taste a little bit of" before seeing how the Lakeland, Florida, native responds moving forward.
But past Rutgers' hope that Sanders can bounce back and help bottle up a backcourt featuring Trimble and Sulaimon, the tall task of containment continues in the frontcourt with 6-foot-11 center Diamond Stone, who averages 13.1 points per game as a freshman.
"It's a lot of more basketball, so we're gonna have to get used to (facing bigger lineups)," senior center Greg Lewis said after the loss to Indiana. "No excuses."
Stone, a former consensus five-star recruit, has contributed immediately for the Terps. He provides 6-foot-9 forwards Robert Carter (12.6 points per game) and Jake Layman (10.6 points per game) extra utility on the floor in a Maryland offense that has weapons spread out all over the floor.
But none of that is news to Jordan, who addressed the challenge of lining up against the deep Terps' rotation bluntly.
"It's like the American Dream, man — the rich get richer and the guys underneath at the bottom of the ladder gotta struggle," Jordan said. "So it's gonna be a struggle for us. But we're up to the challenge."
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.