Freshman leads Rutgers as its 3 point defending woes continue in 29th straight Big Ten loss
When freshman guard Corey Sanders was suspended by head coach Eddie Jordan for “a violation of team rules” Monday, the lighter part of the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s schedule became much more daunting.
Returning to a seven scholarship player rotation for the first time since freshman forward Jonathan Laurent missed four games due to a concussion suffered against Wisconsin.
Just as Sanders carried the team in his fellow Floridian’s absence, averaging 17 points in four games against three ranked opponents during the stretch, Laurent has picked up the slack for Sanders.
The Orlando native led the Scarlet Knights with 19 points and 15 rebounds against Penn State Saturday. His third career double-double is his second straight after he scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Illinois Tuesday.
While he was unable to prevent a 70-58 loss to the Nittany Lions at the Rutgers Athletic Center, he kept it from getting out of hand with his strong play.
“I guess it’s just in me (to keep playing hard),” Laurent said. “I just want to win. It doesn’t matter if we’re down to three scholarship players, two scholarship players, I just want to win a game. So I’m going to go hard every game just to have a chance to win.”
Laurent gave Rutgers its first lead of the game when he hit a pair of free throws with 14:58 remaining in the contest. The Knights only maintained the lead for 18 seconds, regaining it for another 42 seconds before losing it for the rest of the contest.
After tying the game up at 37, the Nittany Lions went on a 24-9 run to take a 61-46 lead with 6:53 remaining in the contest.
A 9-0 run within the run through three straight threes put the game away for good.
“They hit threes, and us not capitalizing on offensive plays,” said sophomore forward D.J. Foreman on how Penn State ran away with the game. “It allows them to get another opportunity to score on offense.”
Penn State torched Rutgers from beyond the arc, shooting 40.9 percent from downtown with a 9-for-22 clip.
The Nittany Lions came into Piscataway shooting 29.3 percent from beyond the arc.
“We shoot a lot,” said Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers on the preparation for his team’s performance from beyond the arc. “Contrary to popular belief, we shoot a lot … I think the guys are playing with some confidence right now.”
Watching opponents light it up from three has become a tradition for the Knights this season. Teams facing Rutgers are averaging just under eight made 3-pointers per game on 35.7 percent shooting.
It gets worse when looking at the stats in Big Ten play alone.
The Knights are allowing conference opponents to shoot 39.7 percent from three, averaging just under 10 made treys per game.
With all the issues surrounding Rutgers, it’s difficult for head coach Eddie Jordan to pin it on one singular problem.
“It’s a whole lot of things,” Jordan said. “It’s part of the ramifications of having a smaller, shorthanded team. (Opponents) kick it out for offensive rebounds, they kick it out for threes … we have small guards so they shoot over the top of us some.”
Watching the opposition nail 3-point shots is disappointing, but seeing them get second or third tries can be downright demoralizing.
Unfortunately for the Knights, with Sanders suspended for another two games and the injury crisis persisting until the end of the season, all they can really do is keep grinding through.
“It’s really frustrating, and on top of that, if they miss their three, they’re gang-rebounding and its tough on that part because we’re so undersized,” Foreman said. “It’s tough when they keep getting these opportunities. All we could really do is play harder.