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Geo Baker begins shooting but not expected to play vs. Syracuse

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Geo Baker has taken the next step towards returning but has not yet begun practicing.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers is prepared to take on Syracuse Tuesday night during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The No. 21 Scarlet Knights will have to do so without Geo Baker.

Steve Pikiell confirmed on Monday that Baker will not be available against Syracuse, but that he has been making progress in his recovery.

“He hasn’t practiced yet. I don’t think he’s going to practice today,” Pikiell said during his Monday news conference. “If you don’t practice, it’s hard to play guys. I’m just glad, yesterday it was the first time he was in the gym shooting around a little bit. That’s a good sign. Not running, not jogging, just shooting. He’s trying to keep his form. We’ll continue to work with him the next few days but until he practices in full, you can’t expect a guy to play.”

Baker suffered an ankle sprain in the first half of Rutgers’ season-opening win against Sacred Heart. He was added to the Bob Cousy Award watchlist early in November. This award is given every year to the top point guard in the nation.

Rutgers has not played since Nov. 29 when they defeated Hofstra, 70-56. In that week, Baker has made some progress towards returning to the court.

“Geo had a good week of a lot of appointments with Rich (Campbell). Rich has done an unbelievable job getting him extra sessions,” Pikiell said. “He went from crutches to out of the boot. Now he’s walking around which is a good sign. It’s good to see him, yesterday shooting around a little bit. Still not practicing, but shooting around.”

In Baker’s absence, Rutgers has gotten extreme contributions from Ron Harper Jr. He is averaging 21 points per game over the first three including a 30-point performance in a win over Fairleigh Dickinson. Jacob Young and Montez Mathis have also stepped up scoring 15.3 points per game a piece.

The Scarlet Knights are off to a 3-0 start but the schedule is expected to get tougher soon beginning with tomorrow’s matchup against the Orange. Pikiell mentioned that Rutgers currently has the fourth-hardest schedule remaining in the country. Big Ten play begins next Monday at Maryland.

“We have a tough stretch here obviously,” Pikiell said. “I think we’re the fourth, I was reminded this morning, we have the fourth-toughest schedule in the country remaining. So I thank that assistant coach that reminded me of that so I can sleep less.”

Rutgers will enter Tuesday night having lost their last 13 games against Syracuse. A win in this game would break that streak and be huge for the program moving forward.

“You know how great Syracuse always is,” Pikiell said. “A Hall of Fame coach with really good players so we’re excited about throwing it up tomorrow.”