Rutgers captures 1st road win of season at Penn State
Since joining the Big Ten Conference in 2014, the Rutgers men’s basketball team had never won back-to-back games in the regular season — a streak that spanned 78 games. But on Saturday, inside the Bryce Jordan Center, that streak snapped.
On the road playing against their cross-state foes in Penn State, the Scarlet Knights (10-9, 3-6) took down the Big Ten basement-dwelling Nittany Lions (7-13, 0-9), 64-60. They secured not only their first conference winning streak, but also their first conference road win of the season, leaving "Happy Valley" pretty happy.
“It's great to come into this environment and get a win on the road,” said head coach Steve Pikiell, according to scarletknights.com. “This is the toughest league in the country and it's especially hard to win on the road. I couldn't be more proud of this group. They fought through a lot.”
The win also marks the team’s third conference win of the year, matching its season total from last year in which Rutgers didn’t notch its third Big Ten win until Feb. 13.
Coming off a big upset win over Nebraska at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) earlier in the week that Pikiell called a “team win,” the Knights — once again underdogs — traveled to University Park and pulled out another all-around team performance.
Leading the way was sophomore guard Geo Baker, who matched his season high in points scored with 20 while adding three assists and three steals. It was the sixth straight game Baker reached double-digits in scoring and the 16th time in 19 games this season.
“We were coming in here with that winning mentality," Baker said, according to scarletknights.com. "I just stayed on attack mode all game. Our leadership really helped us. We want to keep this team together and keep this going."
Despite Baker’s high-scoring day, the game was a low-scoring affair, with neither team going up by more than six. But with under a minute to play, no player came up bigger than junior forward Eugene Omoruyi.
Making his second appearance since dislocating his knee cap two weeks ago, Omoruyi went 4-4 from the free throw line in the waning seconds to give Rutgers the cushion it needed to pull out the win. He finished with 11 points going 7-8 from the charity stripe.
“Our defense was excellent tonight from start to finish," Pikiell said. "We're fortunate that we made big free throws and had a couple more points than them in the end. It was a hard-fought win."
Neither team shot the ball particularly well from the field as both finished at 35 percent. But, where the Knights had the advantage was from beyond the arc — shooting 44 percent (7-16) compared to Penn State’s 25 percent (6-24).
Rutgers also showed some resilience, as it did in their game against the Cornhuskers (13-7, 3-6), after giving up a halftime lead. While the Lions managed to cut the deficit and even take the lead so late as just over 4 minutes remaining, the Knights clamped down, retook the lead and never looked back.
"We knew this was going to be a war," Pikiell said, according to scarletknights.com. "We made some big stops. These close games, that's what it comes down to. This is a good sign for us, we win two in a row, and I think this team will continue to get better.”
At 3-6 in conference play, Rutgers is now tied for ninth in the standings with a tough stretch on the horizon. The Knights will come back home for a Wednesday matchup with Indiana who is currently tied with Rutgers in the standings before going back on the road to face Ohio State.
After all of that, the Knights will return to the RAC for a primetime matchup against No. 5 Michigan on Feb. 5.
But if Baker and the rest of the team continue to play the way they’ve been playing recently, Pikiell believes Rutgers can compete with anybody.
“He was running the show," Pikiell said about Baker, according to scarletknights.com. "I keep saying he's one of the best young guards in the league. He was locked in.”
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