Rutgers desires junkyard dog mentality at RAC versus Purdue
The date was Jan. 26, 2010.
On that night, the Rutgers men’s basketball team lost its ninth consecutive game in what was former head coach Fred Hill Jr.’s final season at the helm.
Fast forward five years later and the Scarlet Knights (10-15, 2-9) are reeling. They now find themselves one loss away from equaling that streak Thursday when they host Purdue at 7 p.m. inside the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
An eight-game losing streak seemed unfathomable one month ago when the Knights shook the college basketball landscape with a historic win Jan. 11 against then-No. 4 Wisconsin at the RAC.
But since then, the relentless gauntlet of Big Ten play has taken its toll with Rutgers, now stuck in a seemingly infinite downward spiral.
With the Boilermakers (15-9, 7-4) coming to Piscataway — winners of four of their last five, including three against ranked opposition — the Knights’ underdog persona continues against what is perceived as superior opposition.
Yet, despite the clear struggles in their new conference, junior guard Bishop Daniels stands firm on his preseason claim that Rutgers has just as much talent as any Big Ten team its faced.
“I don’t ever want to blame [losing] on that,” Daniels said of the talent level in the Big Ten. “As players and as a team we just need to get together, and I still stand by my word from what I said in the beginning of the season. I don’t see any team that’s individually, player for player, better than us. It’s what they do as teams and that’s what we haven’t been doing. We haven’t been putting all our pieces together every game.”
Though recent results and some of the margins of defeat would argue the contrary, lack of depth has played an influential role in the Knights’ struggles to piece together consistent performances.
But with freshman guard Mike Williams’ return from an ankle injury last Sunday against Ohio State, and the continued development of freshman forward D.J. Foreman and freshman center Shaquille Doorson, Rutgers’ young bench is slowly maturing.
“[Mike] hasn’t played, so I’m happy that he got a lot of time,” head coach Eddie Jordan said postgame Sunday against Ohio State. “We’re pleased with D.J. [Foreman]. He’s up and down but [I like] his progress, his demeanor. Shaq [Doorson] had some moments out there. We’re developing our young guys.”
In order to counter the physicality and size of Purdue, the Knights will hope at the very least Doorson can provide strong minutes with 7-foot center A.J. Hammons creating a matchup nightmare inside.
Along with being the Boilermakers' leading scorer with 10.8 points per game, Hammons is a defensive force averaging three blocks per game, which is 10th best in the nation.
But Purdue has shown to be prone to careless turnovers, having committed 23 in its last game against Minnesota, resulting in a narrow 62-58 defeat.
Considering the Buckeyes had 15 turnovers against the Knights, it could be something they look to exploit.
“We need to give that same effort throughout the whole game and we pressed at the end, which wasn’t too bad,” Mack said of how to improve for Thursday. “So I think we should throw a little bit of that in there in the first half and see how that works out.”
No matter what strategy Rutgers leans towards, a sense of urgency may be more valuable than any X’s and O’s Jordan and his staff create. Its winless streak now stands at 32 days.
Considering the Knights were humiliated in their last two home games by 20- and 19-point margins, respectively, urgency should not be the issue.
If Rutgers truly wishes to end its miseries against a Purdue team on the bubble for NCAA Tournament consideration, it must regain the junkyard dog mentality it’s lacked for much of the conference season.
“Our whole thing is we’re never going to give up,” Daniels said. “We’re out here in the Big Ten just like any other team even though we get counted probably as one of the last teams every single time, but we play just like they are. We got to show that we’re dogs. I mean, we’re hungry. We haven’t won a game in I don’t know how long, so our main thing is just going out there and grinding. However we can get it, we’re going to get it.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.