Rutgers vs. Nebraska: Three Observations from a frustrating 60-54 loss
On Wednesday night, the Rutgers men's basketball team had the perfect opportunity to get back on track in Big Ten play, as the Scarlet Knights welcomed Nebraska to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
But it wasn't the result that Rutgers wanted, as the offense sputtered once again and the team dropped its second straight loss, a 60-54 setback to the Huskers.
Junior guard Corey Sanders led the way with 14 points and two assists, while true freshman guard Geo Baker chipped in with 10 points and fifth-year senior forward and captain Deshawn Freeman notched his second straight double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Here are three observations from the frustrating loss.
The offense is officially a serious concern
There are times where the Knights just can't accomplish anything on offense. As a team, they shot 33.8 percent from the field, while the Huskers were 39.6 percent. Sophomore wing Issa Thiam was ice cold from behind the arc, missing all seven of his attempts from deep, which kept the offense from gaining any sort of rhythm. In Thiam's defense, he didn't take any ill-advised shots, the ball just wasn't falling, and it simply wasn't his night.
Hindsight is 20/20, but if Thiam makes just two of those, this is a completely different game that Rutgers has a very good shot to win. But it's not fair to pin the poor performance on one player. The Knights were simply very sloppy and failed to execute down the stretch. Too often they settled for bad shots, while Sanders was called for a key charge to turn the ball over with less than a minute left and a chance to get his team back into the game.
Mike Williams's absence continues to hurt the team
It's unlikely senior guard Mike Williams will play again this season due to injury, and each game Rutgers fans are reminded of how important he was to the team. It's cliche, but what Williams brings to the table doesn't show up on the stat sheet. He always brings a spark off the bench and seems to make a key shot in the first half to give the Knights some momentum when they desperately need it. That player just isn't there when he's not on the floor.
Additionally, in his absence, Steve Pikiell has resorted to using two players to fill his void. Senior guard Jake Dadika and sophomore forward Matt Bullock play hard when they are given the chance but simply aren't the same as Williams. Neither of them rebound like Williams does and aren't a serious threat to score the ball. That lets opposing defenses to zero in on players like Sanders and Baker, making it even more difficult for a struggling offense to score points.
This was arguably the most frustrating loss of the season
While losing to Nebraska — one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten — isn't necessarily an inexcusable loss like Stony Brook or Hartford, Wednesday night was especially frustrating considering how many times Rutgers had a chance to get back in the game and couldn't execute.
With 54 seconds left in the game and the Huskers clinging to a 54-52 lead, their best player in James Palmer Jr. missed a 3 pointer. Despite the Knights being one of the best rebounding teams in the country, it was Nebraska who grabbed the miss and gave itself another possession. The Huskers called a timeout and Glynn Watson Jr. beat the shot clock with a driving layup to put his team back up by 4 points with just 29 seconds left.
If Rutgers had gotten that rebound, which it seemingly always does, the team would've had a shot to either tie or take the lead with less than a minute left and put itself in a very good position to win. Instead, Sanders drove to the hoop and had his layup blocked and despite getting the ball back off of an offensive rebound, was called for a charge that sent Nebraska to the free throw line, where it would go on to put the game away.