Rutgers can't overcome slow start in loss to Maryland
Knights can't get back to back wins
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — After the Rutgers men's basketball team came back to shock Northwestern at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) Tuesday night, head coach Steve Pikiell told his players he wanted them to turn it into a streak.
The Scarlet Knights (13-16, 3-13) were eager to build momentum in their final three regular season games before the Big Ten Tournament, but didn't show that drive for most of the game against Maryland (18-11, 7-9) on Saturday night.
The Terrapins came out with energy, while Rutgers came out flat. Fans that got caught up in the ugly weather and settled into their seats just a few minutes after tip missed quite the start, as Maryland went up 10-0 before the first media timeout.
Things went just as poorly in the second half, as the Terps went on yet another 10-0 run to go up by 22 points and seemingly put the game out of reach.
Bruno Fernando was unstoppable, as he went off for 18 points off of 8-of-9 shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds. The Knights had no answer for him, as he routinely had space to operate in the post and threw down numerous thunderous dunks.
Although Rutgers went on a 20-5 run to make things interesting, Maryland weathered the storm and came away with the 61-51 win.
"Obviously we got off to another bad start," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "It’s been a trademark the last few games for us. After that, I thought we played them even. But you can’t spot a good team, a well-coached team (points) on the road. We couldn’t do anything with Fernando, he was a monster. They got good players. We have to play better on the road."
The Knights could not get anything going on offense, as junior guard Corey Sanders was completely bottled up, going 3-of-14 from the field and finishing with 6 points and four turnovers, while being benched for a portion of the second half in favor of walk-on senior Jake Dadika.
The only noticeable offense came from sophomore forwards Issa Thiam and Eugene Omoruyi, who combined to score 20 points on a 50-percent mark from the field.
Omoruyi's play is especially encouraging, considering many, including Pikiell, did not expect to see him back on the floor after he suffered a knee injury against Illinois. So not only has he returned to action, but he was also the team's best player on Saturday night.
He continues to display his basketball IQ by taking charges on defense and doing all of the little things the right way.
"Any time I step on the court, I try to help my team win," he said. "Just to take a charge, just to get the guys hyped up. Just to score, to rebound, get an assist. Anything I can do. Just the little things."
And despite leading the team with 11 points, it was Omoruyi who shouldered the loss, saying he should have gotten his teammates more prepared.
Just a sophomore with two starts on the season, Omoruyi has developed into a leader for Rutgers. He took responsibility for the team's slow start and admitted he needs to do a better job in the future.
"I just feel we started off slow. I take that on me," he said after the game. "I should’ve brought that energy from earlier and I feel like we didn’t bring that energy and I take that on me."
The 6-foot-7-inch product of Rexdale, Ontario, Canada logged 39 minutes for the team in its previous game against the Wildcats.
Senior guard and captain Mike Williams echoed the sentiment, noting that if they can play well enough to beat teams like Northwestern, there is no reason for nights like Saturday.
"We just got to come out with energy and fight," Williams said. "Instead we were getting our butt kicked with two 10-0 runs. We just got to come out and play that way the whole game. When we find out how to play a complete game like we did against Northwestern, there’s no way we can’t play with anybody."
With just three guaranteed games left for Williams and the Knights — two regular season games and one Big Ten Tournament game — time is running out on a critical season in Pikiell's rebuild of the program.
With quick turnarounds and a more-talented starting five every game, the Big Ten season is clearly taking a toll on Rutgers. But with its win against Northwestern on Tuesday, Pikiell's team showed it still has something left in the tank.
And Pikiell embraces the challenge, knowing that every night is a challenge, but every night is a chance for the Knights to beat a team not many people expect it to.
"Nothing’s easy in the league," Pikiell said. "This is the best league in the country — I don’t care what anybody says — from top to bottom the best league. Trying to win on the road in this league is as hard as any league in the country. You gotta keep fighting."
Omoruyi also remains focused on ending the season on a positive note, with there still being an outside chance that Rutgers can make a run in the Big Ten Tournament and finish at or above .500 for the first time since 2006.
But for that to happen, he knows that the team can't let up two 10-0 runs to start the first and second halves, and that the energy needs to be there for all 40 minutes.
"(We need to) just go out every night and play hard. We should’ve brought that energy today in the beginning of the game," Omoruyi said. "So that’s our main focus for next game. Bring the energy, start off the game right and try to come out with a dub."