Offense sputters again, Rutgers worn down late in 60-43 loss to Penn State
Knights poor shooting, turnovers lead to another loss
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Rutgers men's basketball team wasted a stellar first-half defensive performance on Saturday afternoon against Penn State, as the Scarlet Knights were easily put away in the second half in a 60-43 loss at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park.
Junior guard Corey Sanders had the worst shooting game of his career, as he was held scoreless for the first time ever in a Rutgers uniform. He missed all seven of his field goal attempts, did not get to the foul line and was put on the bench for a 9-minute stretch in the second half in favor of junior guard Souf Mensah.
"I just went with that group that came out and gave us great energy," said head coach Steve Pikiell on the decision. "We got a lift out of that. I coach by that. He (got) 29 minutes, that’s what he averages, 30, 30 something odd. Souf and that group gave us great energy, and they got us clawing back into the game."
While Mensah has proven to be a big downgrade compared to Sanders this season, he brought energy against the Nittany Lions that Sanders simply did not. With Mensah running the offense, the Knights went on a 9-2 run to get back in the game for a short period of time.
And while the team did have that successful run, Penn State took full advantage of its clearly-superior roster, using players like forward Mike Watkins and Tony Carr to outscore Rutgers by 12 points in the second half and pull away with the win.
Watkins was an absolute force in the paint, scoring 15 points along with an astonishing 19 rebounds. His length and physical presence was simply too much for the Knights to handle, as Watkins was the primary reason that Rutgers — normally a top-tier offensive rebounding team — only had two offensive boards.
The team is usually able to compete with more talented teams by grabbing those rebounds and getting second-chance points to make up for missed shots.
But on Saturday, the team looked like the Eddie Jordan's Knights and not Steve Pikiell's, as they were out-rebounded 42-27 overall and 9-2 on the offensive glass.
"Huge (lost opportunity)," Pikiell said of the offensive rebounding margin. "I thought they blocked out well but we’re a good offensive rebounding team. We talked about it at halftime, we didn’t have one offensive rebound (in the first half). We had one team offensive rebound, so not one individual guy had one. To their credit, they blocked out but we have to make sure we’re going. That’s another way we can score and get teams in foul trouble. So they obviously did a much better job than us at that."
Rutgers shot 31.4 percent from the field and continues to be the worst offensive team in the Big Ten by a considerable margin. Here are the team's offensive numbers from its last three games:
- 33.3 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from 3 in a 62-47 loss to Michigan
- 33.8 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3 in a 60-54 loss to Nebraska
- 31.4 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from 3 in a 60-43 loss to Penn State
Analytics-wise, the team is far behind the rest of the Big Ten. Per KenPom, a website that ranks all Division I teams based on efficiency, the Knights rank 14th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency with a rating of 85.0. The next lowest team is Minnesota with a rating of 97.1. For reference, the average difference in the top 13 teams in offensive efficiency is 1.9, with the difference between Rutgers and Minnesota at 12.1.
A rare area where the Knights excel on offense is taking care of the ball, where they are among the best in the conference at not turning it over. After a relatively clean first half of just four turnovers, Rutgers gave it away 12 more times in the second, leading to 16 total, five more than its season average of 11 per game.
"That’s not normal for us," said sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi. "I feel like we just kinda got ahead of ourselves a bit. We just gotta relax, we kinda fed them with the pressure. We just gotta relax and take it easy and give smart passes."
And on the defensive end, things weren't much better in the second 20 minutes. Despite only giving up 4 more points in the second half than the first, the Knights' defense simply looked wide open. Penn State had way too many easy driving dunks, killing any momentum the other side had.
"I just felt like we could’ve played a bit harder," Omoruyi said. "We just gotta come as a team tomorrow and talk about things we need to work on for the next game."
The Rutgers basketball program is clearly on the rise, but games like Saturday serve as a reminder how much of a talent gap the team has to deal with in conference play.
The defensive effort was not particularly bad, but it is nearly impossible to win games when shooting 31.4 percent from the field.
"(We) needed to just grind in this game, but (we) couldn’t make a shot," Pikiell said. "It kind of got away from us a little bit, and our inability to score affects us sometimes on the defensive end."
The team has a quick turnaround with a road trip to Illinois on tap. Omoruyi said that the team needs to regroup and figure out how to play to its strengths better.
"We just gotta group up tomorrow, (have a) team meeting, talk about things that we can do to keep up with our strengths," he said. "I feel like we just didn’t execute or just didn’t do stuff we are (normally) doing. I feel like this game was kind of a bit rough, but we’ll come back out next game and try harder."