Rutgers looks to bounce back against Penn State
The Rutgers men’s basketball team’s blowout loss to Iowa in the middle of the week was a clear step in the wrong direction.
Head coach Steve Pikiell dug into his team for the first time this season in his post-game press conference, saying the team was not tough and using the wire-to-wire 20-point loss to a team it came close to defeating in Iowa City weeks earlier as an example.
“We’re not tough and you saw it today,” Pikiell said. “We weren’t ready to play and that’s on me. I have to do a better job with this group.”
But amid the numerous setbacks are a couple of positives — albeit small ones.
The biggest was the fact that because the game wasn’t tight down the stretch, many of the Scarlet Knights’ key players didn’t play heavy minutes.
Senior center C.J. Gettys played 22 minutes, freshman forward Eugene Omoruyi had 12 and sophomore guard Corey Sanders played just 22 minutes. This was the first time Sanders didn’t reach the 30 minute mark since facing Penn State on New Year’s Day.
The Nittany Lions are the next opponent on Rutgers’ schedule, the third team in the Knights' last four games in which it will meet them for the second time this season, and while they too are coming off a loss, it was far more draining than that of their visitors.
Penn State welcomes Rutgers to State College coming off the longest game of the Big Ten season, a triple-overtime loss to Indiana at Assembly Hall Wednesday. Its top four leading scorers — guard Shep Garner and forwards Tony Carr, Payton Banks and Lamar Stevens — played 50, 42, 46 and 42 minutes, respectively, in Bloomington.
Still, Garner and the rest of his teammates will be in better shape than when the Nittany Lions came to the Rutgers Athletic Center on Jan. 1.
Penn State head coach Pat Chambers said Garner, who didn’t start the game for the first time in the season and was held scoreless in 24 minutes off the bench, was one of “six or seven” of his players who caught a stomach bug during that week.
Even without contributions from their best players, the Nittany Lions managed to beat the Knights handily, 60-47, to start the year.
Saturday will be a chance for Rutgers to both avenge that loss and show that what transpired mid-week against Iowa was an anomaly and not a return to last season's reality.
Riding a three-game losing streak after earning its first conference win of the season against Nebraska two weeks ago, winning their first ever Big Ten road game on Saturday would be the perfect response.
Pikiell stressed his message to his player in the locker room both at halftime and especially after the final buzzer Tuesday.
“Obviously (we are) not very happy,” Pikiell said of the tone of what he told his team. “I think they got the message.”
Walk-on Jake Dadika, who was the only player to accompany Pikiell into the postgame press conference after playing a career-high 20 minutes against the Hawkeyes, confirmed Pikiell's sentiment.
The junior guard said that co-captains Deshawn Freeman and Mike Williams, who combined for 33 points and 22 rebounds and were the only players aside from Dadika to receive positive words from Pikiell after the game, added to their coaches message.
How well the message was received will be determined Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“It’s unacceptable. That’s what we talked about (in the locker room),” Dadika said. “We just decided we can’t have that anymore and it’s time to really start grinding for the rest of the season. We have nine games left, we can’t let that happen anymore … so we’re gonna get back at it (Wednesday), prepare the rest of the week and get ready for Penn State.”