Rutgers faces another uphill battle in road matchup with Northwestern
When the Rutgers men's basketball team first took the court for its Big Ten debut last year, the Scarlet Knights nearly got off on the right foot.
But as Rutgers struggled to put up points on abysmal shooting, it slipped in a narrow 51-47 loss to Northwestern in its conference opener at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Since then, what has transpired has been anything but in the Knights' favor.
Ending the season on a 15-game losing streak in Big Ten play after upsetting then-No. 4 Wisconsin close to 14 months ago on Jan. 11, the demons followed Rutgers into its sophomore year in the conference.
After their most recent loss, an ugly, 22-point drubbing on the road to lowly Minnesota (8-19, 2-13) on Tuesday, the Knights (6-22, 0-15) will stand in a world of their own.
And now, they head back out to the Midwest for Saturday's 2 p.m. ET tip-off on ESPNU at Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois.
With three regular-season contests remaining before the Big Ten Tournament, Rutgers has lost 15 games in a row as its skid inches closer to a program record, currently at 30 straight conference defeats.
"We were still playing hard," said senior guard Bishop Daniels after the Knights' 12-point home loss to Penn State last Saturday, "We just — we gotta get things done."
Rutgers, clearly, hasn't been able to do that at all this season.
Any brimming beam of brightness for the young program has been shot down time and time again. The Knights went with just six scholarship players against the Golden Gophers, missing Greg Lewis as the senior center sat out to nurse a nagging knee injury.
Rutgers' leading scorer, Corey Sanders, won't be back for another game. The freshman guard's two-week suspension culminates after he serves the finality of his four-game suspension after Eddie Jordan announced on Feb. 15 that Sanders had violated team rules.
But with the season coming to close soon, the Knights' third-year head coach remained firm on his season outlook as his embattled squad inches closer to the finish line.
“I look at it like this. We have the opportunity to get in the gym tomorrow and keep them excited and keep them spirited," Jordan said last Saturday after the loss to Penn State. "It’s a heck of a test, and I’m looking to pass the test. It doesn’t matter about the W’s and the L’s, passing the test is to keep doing your job, keep them spirited, keep them organized and continue to give great effort. The test is that as a coach.”
Jordan — and his team as a whole — get another challenging test as they travel to take on the Wildcats.
While Northwestern sits at the bottom half of the league standings, the Wildcats (17-11, 5-9) have been able to compile a competitive resume with close calls against some of the Big Ten's top teams.
Northwestern averages 8.5 converted 3-point field goals per game, which is bad news for Rutgers and its poor perimeter defense. The Knights allowed both Penn State and Minnesota to shoot 41 percent from behind the arc, allowing 18 treys in their past two times out on the court.
Freshman forward Jonathan Laurent managed to emerge with back-to-back double-doubles and followed up with 8 points and eight rebounds against the Golden Gophers.
As much as Rutgers continues to struggle all the way around as it heads into another uphill battle that hasn't altered its mentality.
"I mean, I guess it's just in me," Laurent said last Saturday. "I wanna win. It doesn't matter if we're down to three scholarship players, two scholarship players. I just wanna win the game, so I'm gonna go hard every game just so we have the chance to win."