Let's start by acknowledging that Rutgers was extremely shorthanded tonight, as they had just six scholarship players for this game. Senior captain Greg Lewis was declared out about an hour before tip-off. He has been playing hurt for a long time and it looks like his knees finally gave out. No word on his status moving forward. We know centers Ibrahima Diallo and Shaq Doorson have been out the majority of the season. Deshawn Freeman is a double whammy, out for the season due to injury and suspended indefinitely for "failure to meet team responsibilities". The fact that all four of them are frontcourt players makes it seem like a cruel joke with no punchline.
However, there are two other issues that put Rutgers in an almost unthinkable position tonight, having less than half of the maximum thirteen scholarship players allowed for this game. Corey Sanders has let this team down in a major way, as his four game suspension has sunk this team to the foundation of the Big Ten basement. The timing of a suspension is never good, but the fact that it happened during the most winnable four game stretch of the conference schedule is beyond frustrating. Regardless, whatever the reason for Sanders suspension, he failed in his responsibilities as the star of this team. It's probably killing him to sit these games out, but I hope he is watching his teammates suffer in his absence. Hopefully the damage he has caused sinks in and that he comes back from his suspension after the next game a better teammate. His basketball future depends on it, regardless of where he plays next season.
The other issue is the open scholarship that Eddie Jordan and staff failed to fill this offseason. We covered all the transfers from the program that have occurred in the past 3 years here. Losing Junior Etou, a starter all of last season, and not replacing him, has been a major problem this season. The fact that Nigel Johnson is sitting out his transfer year made filling that scholarship even more important. Of course, it's never good to bring in a player on scholarship who the staff don't feel is a fit or capable to play at this level. On the flip side, it's a failure in the staff's ability to effectively recruit that the scholarship was never filled with a capable player. That put Rutgers at a major disadvantage to start the season, starting with eleven scholarship players, two below the thirteen allowed. Injuries are amplified when roster depth is already an issue, and this season is a perfect example.
Which brings us to tonight's game, which was downright ugly on both sides. Minnesota is a bad basketball team and started the game with a massive hangover from their upset win over Maryland last Thursday. The Gophers came into this game 26th in the country in turnovers per game, averaging under 11 per game. They had 10 turnovers at the half but Rutgers failed to take advantage. The problem is Rutgers had 10 turnovers as well. Rutgers had a 19-10 lead midway through the half and were attacking the rim and scoring off Minnesota mistakes. Credit Eddie for being active on the bench and communicating with Bishop Daniels in directing the slow pace and movement of the offense. But the defense fell apart and the pace of game picked up, leading to fast break points for the Gophers.
Eddie Jordan made a huge tactical error in this game, one that he has repeatedly made throughout this season. Despite Rutgers being severely shorthanded and having only one player taller than 6'7", Eddie failed to change anything strategically. Instead of playing a 2-3 zone on defense, in an effort to conserve energy and keep the team out of foul trouble, Rutgers played man to man the entire game. With so little size upfront, Rutgers was consistently in defensive mismatches. One example was Justin Goode and Khalil Batie being posted up by forward Jordan Murphy multiple times, with little ability to stop him. Minnesota missed several open three-pointers early on, otherwise the game would have been out of reach much earlier.
And thus, predictably, Rutgers got tired midway through the first half and Minnesota went on a 18-5 run to take a 28-24 lead with 4 minutes left in the first half. Rutgers fought back, including a rainbow three-pointer from Justin Goode, and trailed 32-31 at the half. However, Rutgers came out flat and disorganized after the break, a disturbing quality of this team, and Minnesota outscored them 23-7 in the first 9 minutes of the second half. It just got worse from there, as Rutgers ran out of gas and struggled to score the entire second frame, losing 83-61. They were outscored 51-30 after the break but it didn't seem that close.
Rutgers had 21 turnovers tonight, with Jonathan Laurent having an uncharacteristic five giveaways. He looked off and in slow motion all night, as he didn't score his first basket until midway through the second half. He finished with 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals. Bishop Daniels and D.J. Foreman played with the most purpose and urgency on offense, as they were the only Rutgers players to score in double figures. Daniels scored 13 points, along with 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, but shot just 4-12 from the field and committed 4 turnovers. He did have the play of the night though with this drive through the lane and slam!
Foreman scored 12 points and had 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks, but also committed 4 turnovers. Justin Goode had the best game of his Rutgers career, scoring 9 points on 3-3 shooting from three-point range. Walk-on guard Khalil Batie gave this team a spark for the second straight game, scoring 6 points, along with 3 rebounds and 3 blocks.
And so the misery continues, as Rutgers has lost 30 straight Big Ten games, including 29 regular season losses, now the longest streak of futility in the conference in the past 15 years. There is no end in sight as Rutgers travels to Northwestern on Saturday. We know Sanders will be out for the last game of his suspension, but we will await word on the status of Greg Lewis. Regardless, if Eddie Jordan continues to make zero adjustments, especially on the defensive end, it will not matter. Injuries are a major reason Rutgers lost tonight. The inability of their coach to adjust the defensive strategy of his team was the biggest reason Rutgers was run off the court and lost by 22 points. That is the saddest part of all.