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Rutgers readies for No. 18 Michigan State without head coach

<p>Head coach C. Vivian Stringer returned to the bench at MSU after being out against Nebraska to be by her ill mother’s side.</p>

Head coach C. Vivian Stringer returned to the bench at MSU after being out against Nebraska to be by her ill mother’s side.

The new year has not been kind to the Rutgers women's basketball team. 

After winning nine of 10 games to close out 2015, the Scarlet Knights (12-5, 3-3) have suffered a prolonged hangover in the current calendar year. The Knights have begun 2016 with a 2-3 mark, with all three defeats coming on the road.

That is a concern not new to January.

Of Rutgers' six losses on the season, five have come away from the friendly confines of the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway.

The Knights are a woeful 1-5 on the road this season, a sharp contrast to their success at the RAC, where they have won eight straight games and stand 8-1 overall.

No. 18 Michigan State (13-4, 4-2) poses the next road hazard on Rutgers' path.

The Knights travel to East Lansing coming off of an 11-point defeat to Nebraska in Lincoln last Saturday, a contest where the roster was a little light for the team from the Banks.

The defeats are beginning to affect more than just the players.

Head coach C. Vivian Stringer did not make the trip to the Cornhusker State, as the winningest coach in school history continues to tend to her ailing mother, it is unclear if she will be on the bench when Rutgers visits the Spartans on Tuesday night.

"Unfortunately at this time my family and I must surround my mother with love and support during this difficult time," Stringer said in a statement released by Rutgers Athletics Jan. 16. "I have full faith in Coach (Timothy) Eatman, the staff and the Scarlet Knights to carry on in my absence and I will rejoin the team as soon as I am able."

There has been no timetable set for when Stringer is due to return to the team.

Eatman, an assistant to Stringer, has taken over the coaching duties in the interim and it appeared he was well on his way to victory against the Cornhuskers in his first game at the helm.

Rutgers entered the fourth quarter in Nebraska with a 44-41 lead. The Knights led after each of the first three periods until the Huskers began raining 3-pointers in the fourth, outscoring the visitors, 24-11, in the final quarter to win going away.

Senior wing Kahleah Copper finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, just shy of notching her fifth double-double in six games.

"Overall, I thought we played 38 good minutes of basketball,” Eatman said postgame. “Especially on the road playing against a tough team in a tough environment.”

That type of inconsistency will not hold up at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

The Spartans enter the matchup winners of four out of five games played in the new year, with their most recent victory coming over Iowa, 85-80, last Saturday. The Hawkeyes handed Rutgers a narrow 69-65 loss to begin the month on Jan. 4.

Michigan State boasts the fifth best scoring average in the Big Ten (77.4), according to the conference’s website, which will test the Knights’ league-best scoring defense (55.7).

Despite that top spot, Rutgers is allowing 71.8 points per game on the road.

"When she left on Friday, I told her I wasn't going to call. I lost my dad as well. So we want to give her a total amount of respect. We want to stay away from touching base with her. She texts us before a game to wish us luck," Eatman said. "She talks about the seniors and how they're ready for this moment. So right now what we need to continue to do what we have to do as a group to get better so that when she returns, it's exactly the way she left it."

For updates on the Rutgers women's basketball team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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