Rutgers has shown improvement this season in conference games
The Rutgers men’s basketball team had its three game winning streak snapped this past weekend when it travelled up to Columbus, Ohio to face Ohio State.
The Scarlet Knights (11-0, 4-7) couldn’t extend their longest conference win streak since the 2003-04 season to four games after falling to the Buckeyes (14-7, 4-6), 76-62. As Rutgers prepares to host No. 7 Michigan tonight in front of a sold out Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), head coach Steve Pikiell and his student-athletes will look to secure their biggest win of the season and of Pikiell’s tenure at the helm of the program.
After upsetting Ohio State at the RAC in early January when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 16 in the country, the Knights began a three game losing streak that eventually led to the widely talked about players only meeting, which sparked the team's three game win streak coming into Saturday’s match up in Columbus.
Here are three takeaways from Rutgers’ first loss in two weeks:
Big Ten Battle Continues
The Knights have already secured their highest conference win total since joining the Big Ten, and there are still nine more games to play this regular season. Rutgers sits at No. 9 in the Big Ten rankings and can move back up to No. 8 with another win and two Ohio State losses. Despite Indiana, Nebraska and Northwestern having better overall records than the Knights, the team has done better in the conference and would have a higher seed in the Big Ten Tournament if it started today.
It has become clear over the last month that junior forward Eugene Omoruyi has separated himself as the No. 1 option on the team in terms of offense and defense, and is the clear leader of the Rutgers squad. Omoruyi dropped 19 points and added eight rebounds and six assists to lead the Knights in all major categories. The team’s leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, his presence has been especially felt since his return from an injury he suffered in the first matchup against the Buckeyes this season. Rutgers lost three straight games without him, and then won three straight once he returned. Omoruyi also leads the team in charges taken—a stat he held last season, as well. If the Knights hope to make a push for the NIT Tournament or even the NCAA Tournament, it may need to go through Omoruyi to get there.
No Place Like Home
Now 21 games through the season, Rutgers is 9-4 at home and just 2-6 on the road. Of the final nine games left to play this season, five will be on the road, and that doesn’t include the upcoming Big Ten Tournament in Chicago starting next month. Last year’s conference Tournament was played at Madison Square Garden in New York, making the Knights the closet school to the arena and making it as much of a home game as possible. Rutgers will need to improve heavily on the road as the season winds down, something that is understandably taking some time considering how young this team is. Pikiell has faith in his team and continues to have a “1-0” thought process when it comes to each game. Considering the seeding implications and how well the team has done this year, closing out the season on a strong note can make all the difference come March.
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