While the return of Mike Williams and Eugene Omoruyi was a nice surprise and gives hope that Rutgers can end their now seven game losing streak at some point soon, it was not to be on this day. Nebraska put the Scarlet Knights in a huge hole early on in the game and while they fought their way back into it, the Huskers won the game comfortably after wearing down the visitors. The final score was
Nebraska came out hot and led 8-0 in the first three-plus minutes and then jumped to a 15-2 lead just six minutes in. Corey Sanders made a basket in traffic, but a three from Anton Gill made it 20-4. Nebraska was finding gaps in the halfcourt and were attacking the rim with authority, personified by this Isaiah Roby dunk. Rutgers was bleeding.
After Sanders made two free throws, Rutgers shifted to a 2-3 zone in an effort to take away driving lanes, which helped spark them and get back into the game.
After the under-12 timeout, Rutgers ran an effective set play in the halfcourt, as Geo Baker came off of a screen and drained a three from the top of the arc. Unfortunately, the Scarlet Knights were not playing their best defensively, as they continued to give up penetration in the paint too easily. A James Palmer Jr. drive and finish put the Huskers up 24-11 midway through the first half. Finally, Rutgers got going behind a 6-0 run with all three baskets coming from Deshawn Freeman, who started the game 0-4 from the field.
Although a James Palmer Jr. three-point play the hard way pushed the lead back to ten, Rutgers continued its hot streak, as Eugene Omoruyi made his first basket in his return and Issa Thiam knocked down a big three-pointer. At a TV timeout with 6:45 remaining in the opening frame, all of sudden Rutgers was only trailing 27-22, after being down by 16 points early on. The Scarlet Knights had made 7 of 11 shots, after starting the game just 2 of 11.
Glynn Watson Jr., who was scoreless for Nebraska at this point so far, hit two jumpers in a row to push the Huskers lead back to 31-22 with just over five minutes to play in the first half. Senior captain Mike Williams then attacked the rim and made a crafty basket in traffic to get his first basket in his return. Omoruyi then knocked down a jumper and the lead was back to five. Having both players back for the home stretch of the season is absolutely huge and after Jordy Thismanga made his first jumper of the game, Omoruyi knifed his way to the rim and finished strong. Rutgers trailed 33-28 at the last TV timeout of the opening frame. After four Huskers free throws ended the half, the Scarlet Knights trailed by 9 points at the break.
Nebraska shot 48.3% from the field in the opening frame and were 7 of 8 from the charity stripe. Rutgers was just 34.% from the floor, but held a +2 rebounding margin, including an 11-6 edge on the offensive glass. Both teams only turned it over 4 times. While Rutgers had two scoreless stretches of more than three minutes in the first half, they hung in and showed poise getting back into the game, giving themselves a chance in the second half after a disastrous start. Omoruyi, in particular, gave Rutgers a major lift with Freeman on the bench for much of the first half with two fouls, as he put up 6 points, 4 rebounds, and drew his 21st charge of the season in the opening frame.
The second half opened a little helter skelter without much scoring from either team. However, Freeman drew the third foul of the game on Isaiah Roby, who was very effective against Rutgers up to this point in the game. Freeman made both free throws and he then found Corey Sanders in transition for dunk, cutting the score to 38-32 with just three minutes into the second half.
Nebraska has been rock solid this season and showed why in this game, as whenever Rutgers got close, they turned on an extra gear and would quickly extend the lead with multiple baskets in a row. This time, two jumpers from Jordy Tshimanga put the Huskers back up 10 points at the under-16 timeout of the second half. Nebraska’s two best players, James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland, extended the lead even more, as they combined for baskets on three consecutive possessions. Steve Pikiell called a timeout with 14:32 remaining in the game and Rutgers was now behind 48-32, as the Huskers were on a 10-0 run. Rutgers also committed 5 turnovers in just over 5 minutes, after only turning it over 4 times in the entire first half.
That’s what good teams do, as their best players stepped us once Rutgers cut it close and went full throttle, putting the game out of reach. Nebraska, who was picked to finish in 13th place by most in the preseason, are a legitimately good team and with a 19-8 record and 10-4 in fourth place in the Big Ten, are on their way to making the NCAA Tournament.
The Scarlet Knights didn’t quit down 16 points for the second time in the game, as Corey Sanders made three straight baskets after the timeout, including his last jumper coming off a great screen set by Omoruyi. After Palmer Jr. made one of two free throws, Rutgers trailed 49-38 at the under-12 timeout. However, Glynn Watson Jr. knocked down a huge three-pointer soon after and the lead grew to 14 points. After two free throws from big man Duby Okeke, Issa Thiam made a jumper, but Sanders was assessed a technical foul for complaining about a non-call on a missed shot by Mamadou Doucoure on the same possesion. It was a silly mistake and Nebraska’s Anton Gill made one 1 of 2 from the line. Soon after, Roby put the Huskers up a game high 17 points and the two teams traded baskets for a bit. Rutgers never quit and the final score was 67-55. The story of the game was their inability to shoot well prevented Rutgers from sustaining momentum long enough to ever truly make up for the huge deficit they opened the contest with. The Huskers played a complete game on their way to a 67-55 victory.
Nebraska was led by James Palmer Jr., who had 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson Jr. added 11 apiece, while Isaiah Roby finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists.
Although Rutgers rebounded well in this game, holding a +4 margin overall and a 21-12 edge on the offensive glass, as well as holding a +1 turnover margin, their inability to make shots continued to plague them. They shot a miserable 34.8% from the floor and were just 2 of 14 from three-point range. It’s frustrating as hell to watch this team on offense and it’s clear they are in need of at least three legitimate shooters before they can make real progress on offense. Montez Mathis, Ron Harper Jr. and Peter Kiss can’t get on the floor soon enough.
Corey Sanders led Rutgers with 14 points on just 6 of 17 from the floor. He added 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals. Freeman had 12 points and 7 rebounds, as well as 2 steals. He struggled shooting, like Sanders, making only 5 of 14 shots. Eugene Omoruyi played well in his return from a kneecap injury two weeks ago, scoring 11 points and grabbing 9 rebounds, as well as drawing his 21st charge of the season. He did struggle from the floor, making 5 of 14 shots. No other players scored in double figures, as Geo Baker’s 7 points was the next highest tally. He also had 3 assists and 0 turnovers, while adding 2 steals and 2 rebounds. Mike Williams was rusty in his return from an ankle injury he suffered four weeks ago, finishing with just 2 points on 1 of 4 shooting and no rebounds.
Rutgers returns home to face Northwestern (15-11: 6-7) on Tuesday night at the RAC. The Wildcats will play their second straight road game, as they lost 73-57 at Maryland on Saturday afternoon. The two programs met three times last season, with Northwestern winning all three. It will be the first meeting between the two teams this season. Having its two best bench players back in Mike Williams and Eugene Omoruyi will give them a chance to win at home on Tuesday. Even so, Rutgers has now lost seven straight games and have just four remaining in the regular season.
Although this team has gone through a disappointing stretch, as the losses of Williams and Omoruyi hurt them considerably, there is still hope. Rutgers is within two wins of Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin and still have an opportunity to finish better than last place for the first time in four seasons in the Big Ten. With victories over Iowa and Wisconsin, giving them the tiebreaker in the standings, as well a matchup with Illinois on senior day in the regular season finale remaining, there is a chance to finish the season in a similarly strong fashion last year. However, they have to generate more offense to be able to get back on track in the victory column and games like this don’t breed much confidence that they will.
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