January 22, 2019 | ° F

Rutgers looks to build on strong second half against Maryland with first Big Ten conference win against Nebraska

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Freshman guard Corey Sanders believes he's made up for his mistakes that caused head coach Eddie Jordan to start his leading scorer on the bench for the past two contests. Sanders hopes to start against Nebraska Saturday after he scored a team-high 16 points in Rutgers 88-63 loss to Maryland Wednesday.

The scoreboard at XFinity Center read, “Maryland 46 — 18 Rutgers” when the first 20-minute period between the home Terrapins and the visiting Rutgers men’s basketball team came to a close.

But in the 15 minutes he had with his team in the locker room before it returned to finish its meeting with the No. 3 team in the country, head coach Eddie Jordan made sure the score was the last thing on his players’ minds.

“At halftime, I mentioned to our team, ‘We’re not concerned about the score, we’re not concerned about individual stats. We’re concerned about our spirit, our competitiveness and how we’re going to get better and win the game on Saturday and we took steps toward that,” Jordan said after his team ultimately suffered an 88-63 loss to Maryland.

The third-year head coach’s message was heard loud and clear by the Knights (6-10, 0-3), who reduced a deficit that reached as high as 42 midway through the second half to a more respectable 25-point loss.

Photo: Edwin Gano

Graduate transfer guard Omari Grier believes the adversity the Knights faced against Maryland and in its current 3-game skid is good experience for a young Rutgers team as it works to build itself up to become a contender.

“I hope they understand that what we said at halftime remains to be true,” Jordan said. “You are going to do the things in the next 20 minutes that will help you win at home on Saturday ... we competed.”

Although the night ended in another blowout loss against a vastly superior opponent, there were positives to pull from Rutgers' trip down Interstate-95.

Jordan has constantly talked of how young his team is, so playing big-time basketball against a Final Four candidate was a great way for his players to evolve and gain experience.

The more experienced members of the Knights believe the team could use the negative stretch of games to learn to bounce back and continue to play to the best of their ability without making excuses.

After losing 15 straight to end last season, it's a lesson that can help prevent a repeat of the streak.

“It’s good for these younger guys to get this (experience), especially at a younger age,” said graduate transfer guard Omari Grier. “With them being freshman, it’s nothing more but a good mental note and a good teaching moment for those guys, especially preparing for next year, the things you need to go through in order to stay together and to stay positive and stay encouraging to your other teammates."

Rutgers will have a chance to apply its newly acquired knowledge in the upcoming contest Jordan referred to in his postgame message. The Knights host Nebraska on Saturday in a contest scheduled to tip-off at 5 p.m. on ESPNU.

The Cornhuskers (8-8, 0-3) travel to Piscataway for the first time since 2006, when Rutgers squeezed out a tight 75-73 win. Last season’s contest took place in Lincoln, where Nebraska defeated its visitors, 65-49, continuing the tradition in the series of the home team coming out on top.

The Knights hope the streak continues. 

With home games against No. 19 Iowa and No. 20 Purdue sandwiched between trips to Columbus, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, coming up in the next couple of weeks, the Cornhuskers present the best possibility for Rutgers to win its first Big Ten conference game this season and its third ever.

Nebraska comes to the Banks with the same winless start to conference play as its hosts, but has a better record and stronger non-conference showing.

Although the Cornhuskers have only one notable win — an 82-71 victory over Tennessee — they have a pair of close losses to top-level opposition.

Nebraska brought No. 12 Miami and then-No. 23 Cincinnatti down to the wire, eventually succumbing to a 77-72 loss to the Hurricanes and a 65-61 defeat to the Bearcats.

A young team in their own right with 10 underclassmen and five upperclassmen, the Cornhuskers are led by their experienced backcourt combo of Kansas transfer Andrew White III and Tai Webster and senior forward Shavon Shields. 

Combined, the trio accounts for 41.9 of their team's 72.8 points per game.

With both teams recently becoming members of the Big Ten — Nebraska joined the conference from the Big XII in 2011, three years before Rutgers joined the conference from the American Athletic Conference in 2014 — a win would be big for the Knights adjustment to the league. 

Freshman guard Corey Sanders, who told The Daily Targum during the team's media day on Oct. 27 he came to Rutgers to "put his brand on the program and help it grow," is going through his own growing pains while going through some with the Knights.

The consensus four-star recruit started the past two games on the bench after Jordan said he had to "taste some humble pie." After his team-high 16 point performance against Maryland, Sanders was confident in the fact he and his coach have overcome the issues they were going through.

A vicious competitor, the Lakeland, Florida, native acknowledged how much the losses hurt to take. But like the rest of his team, he continues to work to improve every day to become a contender in the unforgiving Big Ten.

“We’re still working on everything. All the losses that we have right now, you know, it’s kind of hard for us, but we’re just trying to work through it,” Sanders said. “Right now, we’re not worried about wins and losses. It’s great to win, we hate losing ... so we’re just working as a team to get everybody better.”

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

Brian Fonseca

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