Rutgers extends its losing streak to 7 games with road loss to Nebraska
Knights fall to Huskers by 12 in Lincoln
The Rutgers men's basketball team walked into Lincoln on Saturday in hopes of curbing a six-game losing streak against the most surprising team in the Big Ten this year — a fourth-placed Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Six straight losses turned to seven for the Scarlet Knights (12-15, 2-12), and Nebraska (19-8, 10-4) stood firm at fourth, as the Cornhuskers defeated Rutgers at the Pinnacle Bank Arena Saturday afternoon, 67-55.
The team recovered somewhat from its abysmal shooting performance last time out against Indiana, but the Knights saw shades of the Hoosier loss in the opening minutes.
It was a constant battle to work the ball around the perimeter or inside, and at the start, Rutgers could do neither. Its first possession ended in a shot clock violation, as a result of both the Knights' stagnant offense and Nebraska's suffocating defense.
The Huskers jumped out to a 20-4 lead to begin the game, with forward Isaiah Roby working Rutgers on both ends, pocketing fifth-year senior forward Deshawn Freeman in the post and driving to the hoop early on.
Whereas Nebraska as a team could not keep that pace for the entire 40 minutes, Roby did so on offense and defense. The sophomore recorded his second double-double of the season, collecting 10 points and 11 rebounds in the win.
The Knights entered another game with poor-shot selection, settling for outside jumpers and counting on offensive rebounds to get chances inside.
But the returns of sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi and senior guard Mike Williams brought some life back into the squad, with both returning to form from their injuries and keeping Rutgers in the game from then on.
One of Omoruyi's first contributions — appropriately enough — was a taken charge, his 21st of the season. Nobody else on the team has taken more than one charge this year.
Though Nebraska still had its way on offense, the Knights' crawl back was a result of everyone contributing — not just the standard two-player combinations.
Junior guard Corey Sanders and freshman guard Geo Baker did in fact help that along, helping feed Omoruyi and Freeman inside and finding space for Williams and sophomore guard Issa Thiam on the perimeter.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, that all largely went away soon into the second half. The boost Williams and Omoruyi gave the team off the bench was not enough to offset its shooting woes.
The Knights finished the day sitting at 35 percent from the field, regressing from the first half — a pattern felt throughout the squad. Among Rutgers players attempting five or more shots, none mustered up a field-goal clip more than 36 percent.
That belonged to Omoruyi and Freeman, both going 5-of-14 from the field with 11 and 12 points, respectively. The frontcourt duo held its own on the boards as well, contributing greatly to the Knights' overwhelming offensive rebounding advantage, grabbing nine between them.
Rutgers edged the Huskers, 21-12, on the boards offensively, but as evidenced, that margin means little if the team cannot take advantage of its second chance opportunities.
That is what happened Saturday afternoon and for the most part, that is what has happened the last seven games for the Knights.
When they have rebounded or defended well, they have not been able to double down through their offense. What is encouraging for Rutgers — what have been the most promising signs that have come out of this losing streak — are the returns of Williams and Omoruyi, who seem to have not lost a step, playing meaningful minutes Saturday.
If the Knights can find their shooting form, and Williams and Omoruyi can provide that much-needed flexibility on defense, they are capable of stringing together a few wins as the season winds down.
With only four games separating Rutgers from the Big Ten Tournament, those things are going to need to come together sooner rather than later.
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.