Rutgers suffers embarrassing loss on home floor in 34-point drubbing to Nebraska
PISCATAWAY — It all started on a pair of innocent free throws.
Just 15 seconds into the game, Shavon Shields sank two shots from the charity stripe to put Nebraska on the board. The Rutgers men’s basketball team responded on the other end with a jumper from senior center Greg Lewis and the action was underway in Piscataway.
But what ensued at the Rutgers Athletic Center from that point on was a massacre.
On a day where the program’s legends were in the building as the Scarlet Knights honored the 1975-76 Final Four team that posted a 32-1 overall record, Rutgers matched history in the wrong with an embarrassing 90-56 shellacking on its home floor.
The loss matched the worst in its brief Big Ten history, dating back to last year’s 34-point blowout defeat at Iowa.
“Any loss is tough,” Lewis said. “But as you can see, we (are) undermanned — but no excuses, though. We’ve gotta play better."
The lack of manpower for the Knights (6-11, 0-4) has been well documented.
With Jonathan Laurent (mild concussion) clad in street clothes, the freshman forward joined his injured teammates in junior forward Deshawn Freeman (knee), redshirt freshman forward Ibrahima Diallo (foot) and sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (foot) on the bench.
On the floor, Rutgers rotated just seven scholarship players until unloading the bench late in the game with less than five minutes remaining.
Andrew White III led the way for the Nebraska (9-8, 1-3) with a game-high 28 points on 11-for-14 shooting. For Rutgers, on the other hand, sophomore guard Mike Williams pulled together a team-high 22 points on a respectable 7-for-12 mark from the field.
But past that, the Knights looked lost and helpless.
“Effort. We’ve just gotta have more heart,” Williams said. “That’s not supposed to happen to us in our gym. I don’t care how many people we’ve got. We just can’t let someone come in our house and roll over us.”
Corey Sanders, making his first start since Dec. 30 against Indiana, registered nine points but struggled mightily from the field. Forced looks and drives resulted in a 2-for-12 clip from the field and three turnovers for the freshman guard.
His running mate in the backcourt, Bishop Daniels, didn’t fare any better. The senior guard mustered up just seven points on a 3-for-10 mark from the field, committing three turnovers.
But Eddie Jordan made it clear that the stats and numbers weren’t what his focus was on.
“It’s not the numbers. It’s the effort,” the third-year head coach said. “After a while, you don’t play to the score or the time that you’re down much. You have to play with some effort and some discipline.”
As hot as Nebraska got, Rutgers actually did have a shot to do some damage and narrow the margin at one point.
After opening up with 17 points in the first 4:27 of play, the Cornhuskers cooled off and the Knights briefly climbed back in the game to narrow the deficit at 31-22 with 7:08 remaining in the first half.
But when Lewis went to the line with a chance to make narrow the deficit to seven after Rutgers made it a single-digit game, he clanked both.
And from that point on, Nebraska opened the floodgates.
A 46-26 read from the scoreboard at halftime was only the beginning of the onslaught for the Knights. In the second period, the Cornhuskers poured it on just as much, burying Rutgers and its 7-man rotation away before it even had a chance to mount a comeback.
Nebraska cashed in off any miscues by the home team, cashing in for 22 points off the Knights’ 12 turnovers over the course of the game.
The Cornhuskers didn’t stop there, beating Rutgers down in the paint, 52-20, and owning the glass on rebounding, 43-25, en route to 20 second-chance points to add onto the blowout.
“It hurts when you don’t have key guys,” Williams said. “… Those are extra bodies that we could use to battle down there and protect the rim.”
Williams and the Knights could have lost another player — and big man — valuable to what is left of the team. Jordan said after the game that Lewis was hurting with an injury to his knee.
While Lewis said he intends on doing whatever he can to ensure he is there on the floor for his team, Jordan admitted that the senior might need to take on some rest for the near future.
And even though he is “hopeful” Laurent can return for next Wednesday’s conference matchup at Ohio State, Jordan understands the reality in front of his team right now after its most brutal loss of the season on its home floor.
But Jordan also hopes the fans still have patience in trusting the rebuilding process.
“This is a learning year … our fans have to understand that,” he said. “I’m glad we didn’t have like a whole negative reaction from our fans. There was some, but that’s understandable. But I hope our fans understand with where we are and we’re a young team, we can come back with everybody healthy and with some new recruits that we’re gonna get … so it’s a learning year.”