Rutgers drops to No. 12 seed in Big Ten Tournament after Indiana loss
Mathematically speaking, the worst case scenario transpired for the Rutgers men’s basketball team over the final week of the regular season.
After losing to Penn State in their final home game on Wednesday, the Scarlet Knights (14-16, 7-13) dropped to 11th in the conference standings and needed a win on Sunday against Indiana to climb back to 10th and receive a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, the Hoosiers (17-14, 8-12) needed the same thing, not only for the first-round bye but to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive as well. And on the final day of the regular season Indiana throttled the Knights 89-73 inside Assembly Hall.
“We have to play a lot better than we did today,” said head coach Steve Pikiell, according to scarletknights.com. “Usually we are very solid on the defensive end. Today we weren't. We fouled too much. We have to play with better energy.”
Known for its defense all season and in the midst of playing some of its best, Rutgers gave up 89 points — tying its season-high for points allowed in a regulation game — to a team that averages 70.8 points per game. In their previous six games, the Knights allowed 66.6 points per game.
The loss also dropped Rutgers to 12th in the standings after the Nittany Lions took care of Illinois, leaving the Knights to play No. 13-seeded Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday.
Had Rutgers beaten the Hoosiers it would have earned its first conference tournament first-round bye since 1995. Instead, all the Knights have to hang their hats on is not finishing in last place for the first time since joining the Big Ten.
“This is my third year, and this is the best I've seen the league by far, from 1 through 14,” Pikiell said. “Teams are dangerous all across the board. This is by far the best I've seen the league. And it was really good in my first two years. It's a monster of a league, from top to bottom.”
Offensively, junior forward Eugene Omoruyi and true freshman guard Caleb McConnell led the way with 18 and 17 points, respectively, scoring nearly half of the team’s 73 points. And even though all but one Rutgers player scored, almost all of those points came with the team trailing.
In fact, after getting off to a 5-0 start, the Knights trailed Indiana for the final 36 minutes, getting down by as much as 23 points.
“Give them credit, Indiana was good, they came ready to play. They got to the free throw line, they blocked shots, they did a really good job from start to finish,” Pikiell said.
The game was a far cry from the one the teams played in inside the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Jan. 30 where Rutgers got the win 66-58.
In that game, Hoosier Juwan Morgan scored 15 points on a modest 5-13 from the field. On Sunday, the senior went off in his final home game, putting up 25 points on 11-13 shooting in just 22 minutes of action.
“(Morgan) made some big plays. He’s a senior, he stepped it up, that’s why he’s an all-league guy,” Pikiell said. “When they needed him the most tonight, he got 25 points, got seven rebounds, seemed like he got a couple of blocks.”
Thanks in part to Morgan, Indiana shot a blistering 53.4 percent from the field despite going just 4-18 from 3-point range.
The Knights on the other hand shot the ball at a 42.6-percent clip including a 4-14 shooting performance from deep. It was the second game in a row where Rutgers struggled to connect from behind the arc after shooting the lights out against Iowa a week ago.
“Basketball is one of those where when you deserve to win, most of the time you do,” Pikiell said. “They deserved to win today … they played really well. And obviously, we didn't.”
With the regular season finally over, the Knights will now focus on the conference tournament, and even though they will be the No. 12 seed, winning seven conference games in one of the toughest conferences in the country is nothing to be ashamed of.
Nevertheless, winning eight would’ve been that much sweeter.
“Disappointing in a lot of ways,” Pikiell said. "We showed our youth (we) had a chance to make a statement today but (we’re) just not ready to do that yet,” Pikiell said.
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