Rutgers shoots for different end result in weekend road trip to Nebraska
As much as the accomplishment of breaking Quincy Douby's single-game record for points (35) by a freshman made Corey Sanders want to celebrate, all the freshman guard could do was look back on the one point he didn't get.
"You know how I put it, man. The basketball gods let me do my thing (Wednesday night) and I appreciate that from them," Sanders said, referring to his game-high 39 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. "But I'm just still upset about the free throw I missed, man. All that wouldn't have happened if I just made the free throw."
The Lakeland, Florida, native had the game of his life, getting his own rebound off a missed 3-pointer from the top of the key before racing back to the line and heaving an off-balanced prayer to force a second overtime period in a triple-overtime marathon with Illinois at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
But as Sanders looked back on it, the one miss before the end of regulation served a heart-throbbing sting after logging a career-high 51 minutes on the hardwood.
Now, as the Scarlet Knights (6-17, 0-10) move on from their most winnable Big Ten contest in recent memory, they look to finish next time on Saturday when they head to Nebraska for a 2 p.m. ET tip-off on ESPNU at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.
As much as Sanders did to hoist the team over his shoulders with freshman forward Jonathan Laurent pitching in 23 points and eight rebounds as his sidekick, Eddie Jordan reiterated after the game that Rutgers needs a collective effort from its top-seven players moving forward.
And while he saw growth from his freshman point guard over the course of the night, the third-year head coach noted that the Knights need better possessions out of him leading the offense in crunch-time to prevent the game from coming down to the final shot or when it's too late.
"I'd like to see more organized possessions and coming down the stretch," Jordan said. "But again, you put the basketball in your best player's hands and we did that mostly with Corey (Sanders). He made a lot of good things happen for us and, as a freshman, he's gonna misstep some possessions and some playmaking, but that's okay, it's a process of learning."
Moving on from the Fighting Illini, the trip out to take on the Cornhuskers (12-11, 4-6) presents an opponent on the lower half of the conference standings.
At the same time, it's one that has already beaten Rutgers down — and handily. Last month's 34-point drubbing at the RAC, when Nebraska entered winless in Big Ten play, serves as a brutal reminder in the back of the Knights' minds that no conference game is safe.
For Rutgers to snap a 10-game skid — and a conference losing streak now at 25 since Jan. 11 of last year — it comprehends the need to take a solid full game of basketball and finish down the stretch.
Against Illinois, the Knights — which have been beaten by an average margin of 23.2 points through their first 10 conference games of the season — found themselves somewhere they had yet to be in down the stretch of a back-and-forth Big Ten matchup.
Laurent said Rutgers realizes that, but noted that there has been progress since the team suffered blowouts of 20-points and beyond on consecutive nights when it first opened up conference play.
"We talked about (the losing streak) everyday, but all we can do is come back to practice and fight," Laurent said. "Just everyday, keep getting better. We're seeing things that we could pull from our losses ... so we're just pulling stuff, good things that we're doing and trying to get the next one."
If the Knights can brush up on those lingering miscues, Laurent likes his team's chances.
"I mean, we feel like we can a couple wins," he said. "So we just gotta keep playing hard and try to get one."