Rutgers' losing skid reaches historic proportions after 82-66 loss at Illinois
The last time the Rutgers men’s basketball team faced Illinois, it ended in an instant classic, a 110-101 triple-overtime thriller.
Freshman guard Corey Sanders ran the show, scoring 39 points — a program record among freshman — including a triple to push the game into double-overtime that reached No. 1 in the iconic SportsCenter Top Ten Plays.
But the Scarlet Knights were without their ringleader Wednesday, and it showed on the court.
Rutgers (6-20, 0-13) was unable to avenge the heartbreaking loss to the Fighting Illini at the Rutgers Athletic Center Feb. 3, falling 82-66 in a much less intense contest at the State Farm Center.
Sanders was suspended for two weeks by head coach Eddie Jordan for a violation of team rules, announced on Monday.
"(Corey Sanders) understands the mistakes and he's willing to accept what he has to accept," Jordan told the Rutgers IMG Sports Network in a pregame interview.
Sanders’s absence was evident on the court.
Despite four players reaching double-digit point totals, the Knights never really got into a rhythm on the offensive end, turning the ball over 16 times, including nine times in the first 15 minutes of the game.
A promising start saw Rutgers hit two quick baskets from freshman forward Jonathan Laurent and senior center Greg Lewis, both of which were assisted by sophomore guard Mike Williams, to open up with a 4-0 lead.
The Fighting Illini countered with five straight shots, including three 3-pointers, to go on a 13-0 run over a 2:38 stretch to take a 13-4 lead into the under-16 timeout.
Williams responded out of the timeout by knocking down two straight shots from downtown, sparking a 12-5 run from the Knights to reduce their deficit to 18-16 at the under-12.
Rutgers' second leading scorer led the team early, getting involved in his team’s first 10 points, assisting the Knights' first two buckets before his pair of threes.
But he failed to hit another three until the 18:41 mark of the second half, finishing the night with 15 points off a 3-for-8 clip from three.
A sloppy pair of minutes from both teams out of the stoppage in play was abruptly ended when Illinois hit two straight jumpers before Khalid Lewis got a breakaway layup off a steal on a bad pass from Daniels, forcing Jordan to use his first timeout.
The Illini rode the run past the timeout, extending it to 19-6 over eight minutes to take a 38-23 lead into the final media timeout of the opening period. The home side finished the first half on a 24-9 run to take a 47-25 lead into the locker room.
The Knights didn’t give up in the second half.
Rutgers went on a 7-0 run out of the under-16 when it was down 55-30 before Jordan called a questionable timeout. The run was abruptly ended by Malcolm Hill, who hit a one-legged runner near half court as the shot clock expired following an errant pass.
Hill, like he did at the RAC, led Illinois with a double-double, notching 22 points and 10 rebounds despite playing with a sore hamstring. The Big Ten’s third highest scorer was limping around the court during pregame shootaround, according to the Big Ten Network.
The Knights responded to the circus shot with a blistering 19-9 run fueled by Laurent and Daniels. Ten of Laurent’s 18 points came during the run, with Daniels contributing the other 9 points through scoring seven and dishing an assist to Foreman.
But Rutgers was unable to come within double-digits of its hosts during the entire second half and ultimately fell for the 13th straight time, guaranteeing a third straight 20-loss season.
Rutgers has now lost 28 consecutive games in Big Ten play, the most since Northwestern's identical streak between 1998-99 and 2000-01.
Thankfully for the Knights, they have a long way to go before breaking the all-time record. The University of Chicago owns the longest skid in conference history, losing 56 straight Big Ten games between 1940-41 and 1944-45, before it left the conference.
Rutgers looks to bounce back and end the seemingly never-ending streak Saturday, when it hosts Penn State in a noon tip at the RAC.
The Nittany Lions were the first team Rutgers’ defeated in a Big Ten conference game. The 50-46 win at the RAC was 1 of just 2 conference wins for the Knights last season.