This was an opportunity for Rutgers to end the 28 game losing streak, and to do it at home against old friend Penn State. To do it without Corey Sanders and just seven scholarship players would have made it extra sweet. It was the Nittany Lions who Rutgers won their first Big Ten game against at the RAC last season. There was not a repeat effort today, as Rutgers fell too far behind early and while they fought back, could not sustain that effort down the stretch. Penn State won in a game that was over midway through the second half, prevailing 70-58.
Penn State started up 12-4, then after two Foreman baskets, went on a 11-0 run to lead 23-8 with 7 minutes left in the half. It's the same story as Tuesday against Illinois, falling behind in a huge hole in the first half. Penn State started 4-7 from deep early and held Rutgers scoreless for nearly an 8 minute stretch. Rutgers stopped settling for jumpers and started attacking the rim to finish the half on a 14-5 run and trailed 28-22 at the half.
Rutgers finally came out strong after the break, something they rarely do, and went on a 15-7 run to lead 37-35. Give Eddie credit for trying something different, as he started walk-on Khalil Batie to start the second half. He rewarded his coach with solid play, hitting a jumper on Rutgers first possession of the half. He continued his solid play throughout this early stretch, running the point with energy and bringing a scrapiness to this team. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough and Penn State went on a 13-0 run to lead by 11 points with 11 minutes left in the game. It just got worse from there on out, and after working all the way back to take the lead, Rutgers was back right where they started, trailing by 15 points again. They were down 59-44 this time with less than 8 minutes to play.
The zone and occasional press was effective for Penn State in the second half and helped them put Rutgers away in all too familiar fashion. Rutgers continued to allow too many open looks on the perimeter and open lanes for the Nittany Lions to attack the rim. Shep Garner led the way with 20 points on 5-8 from three-point range, along with 4 assists and 3 steals. Brandon Taylor made Rutgers pay in the paint, scoring 17 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Freshman guard Josh Reeves was solid with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
Rutgers got pounded on the boards, losing the battle 46-34 and allowed 15 Penn State offensive rebounds. Both teams shot just 39% overall, but the difference was from three-point land. Rutgers shot just 2-11 for a horrific 18%. Penn State came into the game dead last in the conference in three-point shooting at 29%. However, they took advantage of the open looks and shot 9-22 for 41% from behind the arc. Rutgers continues to lose the same way, with no end in sight.
The only positive from this game was the continued progression from freshman wing Jonathan Laurent, who played his second strong game during the suspension of star point guard Corey Sanders. Laurent scored 19 points on 6-10 shooting from the field, while also grabbing 15 rebounds. He has scored 37 points in his past two games but took just 10 shots in both, not nearly enough touches for him on offense. Laurent is the most talented player on the floor for Rutgers and he needs to be more of a priority.
Bishop Daniels was solid again, shooting 5-9 from the field and scored 13 points, along with 4 assists and 2 steals. He did turn it over 4 times, something that prompted Eddie to put the ball in the hands of Batie in the second half. D.J. Foreman contributed his usual 10 point, 6 rebound effort off the bench. He had a nice slam at the end of the first half during Rutgers best stretch of the game.
D.J. Foreman helps @RugtersMBB close the first half on a high note. https://t.co/AcqazOnQnk— Rutgers On BTN (@RutgersOnBTN) February 20, 2016
And so the conference losing streak extends to 29 games, as Rutgers falls to 0-14 in Big Ten play and 6-21 overall. This team has had moments the past two games where they played focused and with a purpose on offense. They are just too undisciplined to sustain it for the duration of the game and pair with it a letdown on the defensive end. It's the same recipe for disaster every game and now Rutgers heads to 1-13 Minnesota on Tuesday night. It's the first of two meetings this season and another opportunity for Rutgers to end the streak. The Gophers are riding the high of their massive upset of #6 Maryland this past Thursday. It's back to the drawing board for Rutgers, who keep beating themselves the same way every game.