Nebraska finishes Rutgers, 89-72, to bounce Knights from Big Ten Tournament, end season
INDIANAPOLIS — As Eddie Jordan paced through the bowels of Bankers Life Fieldhouse and climbed his way to the top of the podium, the position was all too familiar.
With two senior captains, center Greg Lewis and guard Bishop Daniels, following their third-year head coach onto the stage, Jordan took a seat and waited.
Standing roughly 4 feet above the ground floor and overseeing the scattered members of the media in attendance, the blank stares symbolized the same story that has summed up the Rutgers men's basketball team's entire 2015-16 season.
As soon as the Scarlet Knights swooped into Indianapolis, they abruptly left it. For the third time in the past three months, Rutgers came out on the losing end of a double-digit blow to Nebraska, with the latest casualty an 89-72 defeat in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
"When the other team gets it to you and they're bigger and you are trying to make plays — we just didn't make them," Jordan said. "You have to give (Nebraska) a lot of credit. There were certain plays I thought we shot ourselves in the foot, but you have to give (Cornhuskers head coach) Tim (Miles) a lot of credit for coming up with a game plan that really pressured us."
Any of the good vibrations left over from the Knights' victory on Senior Day against Minnesota had dissipated entirely into the Midwest air. With the season-ending loss on Wednesday night, 14-seed Rutgers (7-25, 1-17) dropped 18 of its past 19 games — 33 of its past 34 Big Ten contests — in its 19th double-digit defeat to end a dark season full of trial and tribulation.
The back-and-forth affair opened up in the second half after 11-seed Nebraska (15-17, 6-12) capitalized on the Knights' sloppy ball-handling, turning 17 Rutgers turnovers into 27 points on ensuing possessions.
The Cornhuskers went on a 17-2 run in 5:01, taking a 43-43 tie and burying it with the Knights for a 60-45 separation with 11:37 left in the ballgame. From that point on, Rutgers trailed by 10 points or more until the final buzzer.
As freshman guard Corey Sanders struggled to post 10 points on an off night of shooting with a 3-for-12 clip from the field to show for his efforts, sophomore guard Mike Williams led the Knights on the scoring end with a team-high 14 points, but on a 4-for-11 mark.
Rutgers, which appeared ready to compete with Nebraska until the Cornhuskers kicked things up a notch in the second half to pull away, slipped up as Shavon Shields and Andrew White III continued to fulfill their roles as Knight killers with a combined 38 points, causing mismatches all over the floor.
"This game was just another one that we didn't get it done," Lewis said. "I thought we did a good job on White and Shields in the first half, but it got away from us that second half."
With Lewis, Daniels and graduate transfer Omari Grier among the main contributing seniors on their way out, they tried to put the feeling into words at the end of the night.
"The main thing is just talking to the young kids and thanking them and Coach Jordan for giving us this opportunity for this year to fight with us through all the struggles," Daniels said. "This is a great man sitting here right next to me and I wish him the best. I know he's got a great group of kids coming back. They're gonna be good next year."
Jordan faces inevitable questions regarding the security of his job after Rutgers regressed for another season in the third of his five-year contract on the Banks.
But he declined comment on that matter, pointing to the immediate future — not years down the road, but as soon as next year — referencing the return of junior forward Deshawn Freeman and debut of Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson as reasons to believe that statement.
"I'm not commenting on my future. All I know is we have growing pains and I told the team in the locker room growing pains hopefully leads to positive gains for them in the near future," he said. "And they understand, being the core group that we have ... One of the things for young players — you have to break bad habits ... and executing good habits on a consistent basis. But it's fun working with them. They were energetic, they were wide-eyed, they wanted to learn, they wanted to get better, they had faith in me ... So our future looks really bright — in the immediate future, not two years down the line, but by the summer."
Shortly after, Jordan received public backing from the program's rising star point guard.
While Sanders shot down any ideas of transferring with or without Jordan at the helm next year in a postgame interview with The Daily Targum, the freshman echoed support for his coach as the next step for Athletic Director Pat Hobbs remains unknown.
“I’ll continue to defend (Jordan)," Sanders told the Targum. "What happens when we get everybody else (who was injured) back and then we got these recruits coming in that (Jordan) recruited, and then we get a new coach and then, you know, he gets all the praise because we’re healthy? That don’t make no sense to me. That’s all I gotta say about the situation.”