Rutgers looks to learn against No. 9 Iowa
The Rutgers men’s basketball team is having a historically bad season.
The Scarlet Knights (6-13, 0-6) lost their last five games by an average of 31.4 points, breaking the record for worst loss at the Rutgers Athletic Center in consecutive home games in the process.
The first time entering the record books came in a 34-point drubbing to lowly Nebraska on Jan. 9 and then the biggest home loss in program history played at either the RAC or the Barn came against No. 22 Purdue in a 50-point embarrassment on Monday.
The scariest part of it all is that the opponents Rutgers is hosting in the future are only increasing in talent.
The Knights will host No. 9 Iowa on Thursday night in another Big Ten conference contest. After Purdue’s height proved to be nearly impossible for Rutgers to deal with, the Hawkeyes’ (14-3, 5-0) size may be insurmountable.
The Boilermakers entered Piscataway with 10 players 6-foot-4 or taller. Iowa has 15 players with the same qualifications.
Rutgers has gone through its past five games with just three.
If the Hawkeyes dominate with their height in the same way Purdue did — the Boilermakers got more rebounds (63) than the Knights got points (57) on Monday — there is really only one option the boys from the Banks have as they seek their first Big Ten win of the season to end a 21-game skid against conference opposition.
“I guess we just come together and somehow, I guess, pray because they’re a better team (than) us on the rankings,” said sophomore forward D.J. Foreman on how to approach Iowa. “We just have to play harder. That’s all we can do.”
While it is constantly getting blown out, Rutgers isn’t at 100 percent.
The Knights played without three of their bigs — Ibrahima Diallo (foot), Shaquille Doorson (foot) and Deshawn Freeman (knee) — for most of the season and head coach Eddie Jordan confirmed his team would continue to do so for the remainder of the season following the loss to the Boilermakers.
With senior center Greg Lewis playing limited minutes due to soreness in his knee, Foreman was the only big available for Rutgers whenever Lewis sat against Purdue, causing him to play softer defense in order to avoid foul trouble.
“It’s definitely really different,” Foreman said of his current role. “I’m just trying my best to fight inside the post and not foul as much because now I know even more so now, if I put myself in foul trouble, I’ll put my guards in a situation not only they don’t want to be in, but I don’t want them to be in, so I gotta play harder and more safe on defense.”
The good news for Foreman is Jonathan Laurent, a 6-foot-6 forward who has played significant minutes at the four and five positions due to the Knights injuries, “may come back on Thursday” against Iowa.
On Wednesday, sources confirmed with The Daily Targum that Laurent will return to the court for his first action in a live game since Jan. 2.
He has missed the past four games with a mild concussion sustained earlier in the month in the 22-point loss to Wisconsin.
The return of another big body in the paint will be eagerly welcomed by Rutgers, but it may not be enough to deal with one of the hottest teams in college basketball.
The Hawkeyes have won seven straight after letting a 15-point lead slip in the final 10 minutes against bitter in-state rivals then-No. 2 Iowa State, including a pair of wins over No. 4 Michigan State.
The first of the two encounters with the Spartans came when they traveled to Iowa City with an undefeated record and the No. 1 ranking, which Iowa ultimately took away with an 83-70 win.
The circumstances of Thursday night’s matchup with the Hawkeyes makes it a game the Knights have little hope of winning, but it will be another chance to earn experience in what Jordan called a learning season for his team.
“We just come out and play basketball. We know the circumstances,” said freshman guard Corey Sanders. “Coach says we’re just working, we’re just trying to get better, so we’re not really worried about wins and losses right now. It’s all about getting better and developing our team and getting healthy.”