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Rutgers looks to separate itself against Penn State

The Rutgers men’s basketball team looks to start its first winning streak of the new year this Saturday afternoon, as it travels to University Park, Pa. to face Penn State for a Big Ten battle.

The Scarlet Knights (9-9, 2-6) head into this weekend’s matchup coming off their second conference win of the season, defeating Nebraska earlier this week in a back-and-forth battle that went down to the wire over at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC). 

True freshman guard Montez Mathis and freshman forward Myles Johnson both had personal record nights in the win over the Cornhuskers, leading the team down the stretch and playing significant minutes in their early careers.

“It was a great team win,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. "When they threw different looks at us, we did a really good job of attacking and executing. These guys are getting better … we got contributions from everybody and that’s what we needed.”

Mathis led Rutgers with 20 points, while Johnson did his damage on the board with 11 rebounds to go with 13 points — Johnson scored 8 of the final 14 points for the Knights down the stretch. Mathis also grabbed nine rebounds, as well.

The host team comes into Saturday’s game on a rough six-game losing streak, all in the month of January. The Nittany Lions (7-12, 0-8) currently sit at the bottom of the Big Ten and are in desperate need of a win soon, if they hope to not be the No. 14 seed in the upcoming conference tournament. 

Maybe a full week off between games will give the team enough rest to get over the hump after suffering a 1-point loss in its last timeout to Minnesota.

Though this matchup doesn’t have the same feel to it as it does when the football teams meet, this will be the 73rd game between the two squads. 

Penn State won the most recent game last season at the Bryce Jordan Center, 60-43, but Rutgers has won 4 of the last 6 matchups in University Park. 

Sophomore guard Geo Baker is coming off a 16-point (13 points in the second half) performance against Nebraska that saw him all over the court, but that wasn’t the case for him in his first year on the Banks. 

As a freshman, Baker struggled against the Nittany Lions, shooting 1-9 from the field for 3 points. He was able to help the offense by adding four assists, but it wasn’t enough, as the team was having an off night from the field — the Knights shot 31.4 percent from the field and just 28.6 percent from 3-point land in the loss.

“We had a team meeting after our loss against Northwestern that kind of helped boost everybody’s confidence,” Baker said after the win on Monday. 

Rutgers is a different team this go-around, as the loss of two starters hasn't wavered the team much this season, with new faces providing solid performances and set for a big game in Pennsylvania this weekend.

The Knights have a shot to really separate themselves from the bottom spot, but even though they’d like to stay higher up in the standings. The way last year’s tournament went for the squad truly shows that anything can happen.

“Our end goal is, we don’t want to be the losing team, we want to win games together and we’ve got to take pride in that,” Baker said. “We’ve got to want it more than any other team.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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