Contributions from seniors motivate Rutgers ahead of finale at home against Minnesota
When it comes to Senior Day for any team in any sport, it's difficult to ever overlook the end-of-the-year honors for those making their final appearance in front of their home crowd.
For the Rutgers men's basketball team, the three members of the regular rotation who will receive those rounds of applause are guard Bishop Daniels, graduate transfer guard Omari Grier and the fifth-year senior center that's been here in Piscataway to see it all, Greg Lewis.
The trio of Scarlet Knights took different paths to get to this point of their hoops careers.
Daniels jumped around Miami to ASA College before landing at Rutgers, while Grier wrapped up the final season of his college tour after pit stops at Florida Atlantic and Bradley.
But for Lewis — who came up from St. Francis Academy in Baltimore to join Rutgers in the class of 2011 — the end of his five-season ride concludes on Saturday during Senior Day when the Knights take on Minnesota for a 1 p.m. tip-off at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
While Rutgers (6-24, 0-17) remains lost in the midst of a 17-game skid and a Big Ten Conference losing streak of 32 contests dating back to Jan. 11 of last year, Lewis's commitment never wavered once — not even after the Mike Rice player-abuse scandal ripped the program down to the bone.
"I didn't wanna abandon ship," Lewis said. "No diss to any of my former teammates, but I came here for a reason. That was just to be a part of something great. Hopefully, I helped build a foundation that some of the fans can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And hopefully, these young guys can help continue to build the foundation."
Two of those young guys, budding freshmen Jonathan Laurent and Corey Sanders, had nothing but high praise for the soft-spoken senior leader, who held his head high to set the example for a team that has had more than enough excuses to fall apart within the locker room.
"He just brings a lot of positivity and he's a leader out on the floor," Sanders said. "Having Greg out on the floor, there is a plus for us ... He fights, he works hard. That's something that I look at. He works hard, it makes me work hard."
As the Golden Gophers (8-21, 2-15) enter the RAC looking to spoil Senior Day, the Knights try to put the pieces of the puzzle together for that elusive Big Ten win — one that would come at a momentous time.
Minnesota handily took care of its last matchup with Rutgers in a 22-point rout in Minneapolis, but the Knights had just six scholarship players at its disposal.
Lewis and redshirt freshman Ibrahima Diallo are back from injury, while Sanders returned from his four-game suspension against No. 2 Michigan State.
But Golden Gophers head coach Rich Pitino suspended his only three scholarship guards on the team — Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer — for the remainder of the season. Dorsey leads Minnesota in scoring (13.8 points per game) and assists (4.8 assists per game) on the year.
While Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan deflects the heat from his team's large lack of competitiveness in his third year at the helm, he assured that nothing would alter the way the Knights prepare for the Golden Gophers.
"Every night is important to us and every day in practice is important to us. Like last year, I don’t particularly look at a streak. I look at how we need to get better each day," Jordan said. "I know the situation for Minnesota, it’s unfortunate for them, but we want our kids to be ready for our terrific game on Saturday."
As far as what a win would mean to Jordan's group of seniors, Lewis didn't deny the weight it would hold — for him and for the program — moving forward.
"It would mean a lot to me — me, Bishop and Omari," Lewis said. "But I think more so for the younger guys, it'd give them some momentum heading into next season, let them know that it is possible with hard work and paying attention to close details, you get wins."
But contrary to Lewis's unselfish modesty on shedding light for the program as a whole, Rutgers' underclassmen hope for the proper sendoff — the right way, with a win.
"Man, it's so important," Laurent said, of getting a win on Senior Day. "Dating all the way back to last year, it's been a tough season. It's been a lot of games that we had, but we'd let slip away. But it would mean a great deal for us to come together and get a win for (the seniors)."