Rutgers host No. 3 Purdue for clash at RAC
The last thing the Rutgers men's basketball team wants coming into a game against the third-best team in the country is to lose by 31 points to the last-placed team in the Big Ten. But that's the reality the team lives in.
On Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights hit the road and squared off with Illinois, only to compete against what looked like the hottest 3-point shooting team in college basketball, as the Illini pulled off 42 percent of their attempts en route to a 91-point night.
This Saturday, Rutgers (12-12, 2-9) returns to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) to face legitimately one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation in No. 3 Purdue (22-2, 11-0), a team that regularly sinks 43 percent of its shots from outside.
The last time the Knights and the Boilermakers battled was at the beginning of January, when Purdue was only ranked No. 13, and Rutgers fared just as well as it did a few days back against Illinois.
It was an 82-51 result in favor of the Boilermakers at home, with very little to cheer about for the visiting the Knights.
They shot 33 percent from the field, a mark not helped by a 2-of-13 shooting night from beyond the arc. Only freshman center Mamadou Doucoure shot above 50 percent for Rutgers, but it was another night of foul trouble for the Senegal native, only getting nine minutes on the court before fouling out.
On the other end, Purdue had no issue putting the ball in the basket, shooting 49 percent — still slightly below the team's 50 percent average — with Ryan Cline and Dakota Mathias having a field day from 3, combining for a 7-of-12 line from deep.
"I knew we had to have an elite kind of game, and we just didn't," said head coach Steve Pikiell following the loss. "(It was) to their credit, because of the defense they played. They have a lot of weapons offensively."
It was also one of the few games of the season where the Knights were dominated on the boards, as the Boilermakers collected 45 to Rutgers' 27.
Fortunately for the Knights, that loss to Purdue came at a time of adversity for Rutgers.
After knocking off then-No. 15 Seton Hall in the Garden State Hardwood Classic at the RAC, the Knights dropped consecutive matchups to Stony Brook and Hartford in what are still two of the worst losses for Rutgers this season. It was natural for the team to follow those two defeats with another against one of the best programs in the Big Ten.
Now, the Knights are riding their longest losing streak of the season at four games — falling by an average margin of 17 points — and are facing a Boilermaker team that is unquestionably the best in the Big Ten.
They are the only team that rank in the top three in both scoring offense and scoring defense in the conference, featuring four players averaging double-digits in points — Carsen Edwards (16.7), Vincent Edwards (15.4), Isaac Haas (14.8) and Dakota Mathias (12.3).
Conversely, scoring has been a major liability for Rutgers throughout the season, and its usual strong suit, its defense, has suffered over this losing streak, as evidenced by Illinois' 57-percent clip from the field Tuesday night.
The last time these two teams met, Purdue shot a 49 percent that is more than enough to beat the Knights on most days, but it is not a necessarily outstanding night by Boilermaker standards.
A lot of that comes out of Rutgers' defensive prowess, which is something the Knights are going to need to find again in order to not get blown out by the Boilermakers at home on Saturday.
If Rutgers is at a point where it can lose by 31 points to the then-worst team in the Big Ten, then there is almost no limit to what can happen against the best team in the conference and the third-best in the country, especially without a defense to offset its poor offense.
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