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Rutgers men’s basketball game preview at Purdue

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Can the Scarlet Knights break through on the road in the regular season finale? Find out how to watch, stats to know and keys to victory.

Purdue v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Rutgers (19-11; 10-9) at Purdue (16-14; 9-10)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: Mackey Arena (14,240) in West Lafayette, Indiana

Tip-off: Saturday, March 7th at 2:00 p.m. ET.

TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin & Shon Morris

Stream: Fox Sports App

Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network - WCTC 1450 AM/WOR 710 AM/XM 381; Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Raj Shah

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 27th: Purdue 22nd; Rutgers moved up 5 spots since Tuesday’s win over Maryland. Purdue moved up 3 spots since Tuesday’s win at Iowa.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 107.8 (70th) Defense 90.4 (9th); Purdue - Offense 109.6 (50th) Defense 90.6 (12th)

KenPom Prediction: Purdue 65 Rutgers 60. Rutgers is given a 34% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Purdue -5

Series History: Purdue leads the all-time series 12-2, but Rutgers won the first meeting of the season 70-63 at the RAC in late January.

SB Nation’s Purdue Site: Hammer & Rails

Key Contributors

Purdue - 6’9” sophomore Trevion Williams (11.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 51.7% FG); 6’4” sophomore Eric Hunter Jr. (10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 36.4% 3-pt FG); 6’3” senior Jahaad Proctor (9.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’4” sophomore Sasha Stefanovic (8.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steal, 38.3% 3-pt FG); 7’3” junior Matt Haarms (8.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks; 52.8% FG); 6’1” freshman Isaiah Thompson (5.5 points, 1.1 rebounds, 35.8% 3-pt FG); 6’8” senior Evan Boudreaux (5.4 points, 4.4 rebounds); 6’7” junior Nojel Eastern (5.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals); 6’9” sophomore Aaron Wheeler (3.7 points, 4.2 rebounds)

Rutgers - 6’6” sophomore Ron Harper Jr. (12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals); 6’4” junior Geo Baker (10.6 points, 3.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals); 6’6” senior Akwasi Yeboah (9.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 35.6% 3-pt FG); 6’2” junior Jacob Young (8.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists); 6’10” sophomore Myles Johnson (8.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.0 assist, 60.3% FG); 6’4” sophomore Montez Mathis (7.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steal); 6’7” sophomore Caleb McConnell (6.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists); 6’6” freshman Paul Mulcahy (3.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 55.3% FG); 6’9” senior Shaq Carter (3.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 57.3% FG)

Purdue Scouting Report

The Boilermakers are having a different type of season under fifteenth year head coach Matt Painter after losing seniors Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline to graduation. The Boilermakers aren’t nearly as dangerous an offensive team as they’ve been in recent seasons. While they remain a strong defensive squad, 4th in efficiency in Big Ten play and 12th nationally, they are just 11th in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play and 50th nationally. While they have been decent from three-point range in league action at 31.6% (8th), they are shooting just 45.4% from two-point range (13th).

As usual, Purdue has a lot of size in the interior and has the best offensive rebounding rate in Big Ten play at 34.1%, while also leading the conference in defensive turnover rate at 18.8%. The Boilermakers are averaging 68.2 points per game and are shooting just 42.1% from the field, despite a solid 33.4% from three-point range, and are shooting 68.1% from the foul line. The issue this team has had is consistency on offense and that’s hurt them even at home this season, where they have uncharacteristically lost three conference games.

Trevion Williams and Matt Haarms are good offensively in the paint and are true rim defenders, while Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic are snipers from behind the arc. Purdue loves a rockfight and plays the slowest tempo in the Big Ten and 334th overall out of 353 Division I teams.

Purdue returns to Mackey for senior day after an impressive road win at Iowa on Tuesday night. The Boilermakers are 14-2 this season when shooting a higher percentage than its opponent, as well as 10-1 this season when shooting better than 45.0%.

Notes

As a team, Rutgers averages 69.9 points per game and is shooting 44.7% from the floor, 30.4% from three-point range, and 64.6% from the free throw line......The Scarlet Knights have the following national ranks: 10th in field goal percentage defense (38.5%), 17th in total rebounding (40.1), 20th in scoring defense (62.5) and 26th in rebound margin (+6.0), 29th in blocks (4.6).......RU has a NET ranking of 31, which is used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to help determine the field of 68 at the end of the season....Rutgers is currently 9th in Big Ten play in offensive efficiency and 2nd in defensive efficiency.......The Scarlet Knights are the only Division I team with Quad 1 opportunities in its final five games of the regular season.

Keys To Victory

Stand Tall Upfront

Both teams play great defense and struggle shooting wise, so second chance points off of offensive rebounds will be a major factor in this game. Purdue dominated Rutgers on the boards in the first meeting (+10), as well as +6 with points in the paint. Trevion Williams dominated in the second half, when Purdue was able to slow the game down and pound it inside. The key for Rutgers has always been rebounding as a group, but Myles Johnson and Shaq Carter need solid performances on the glass and defensively. They need to hold their ground, but also avoid getting into foul trouble. The Boilermakers are actually a poor shooting team from inside the arc and Rutgers needs to force them into bad shots to continue that trend. Seal off driving lanes and force contested jumpers. If they can play to their potential on the defensive end, they’ll have a real chance to walk out of Mackey as winners.

Turnover Margin

Rutgers turned the tables on Purdue in the first meeting, forcing 11 first half turnover to build a double digit lead and finished with a +4 turnover margin in the game. The Boilermakers have the best defensive turnover rate in conference play, but one underrated area of improvement the Scarlet Knights have made this season is having the 5th best offensive turnover rate in Big Ten play. They had just 7 turnovers in the win over Maryland and that needs to continue on Saturday. RU needs to continue to share the basketball and keep it moving with crisp passes in the halfcourt as well. They can’t afford to lose offensive possessions and give Purdue high percentage scoring chances off of turnovers. On the flip side, if Rutgers can jump passing lanes and force the Boilermakers into mistakes, it could open up transition opportunities, which leads to the next key.

Run, Jacob, Run

Rutgers has the athleticism to cause problems in transition and dominated Purdue with 24 fast break points in the first meeting. Defensive rebounding is key in the Scarlet Knights getting the break going, in addition to turnovers. RU needs strong guard play in order to take advantage of scoring opportunities in transition and no one is better in these situations than Jacob Young. He was the catalyst for speeding up the Maryland game and needs to do the same against Purdue. His quick step off the dribble and ability to create scoring chances in transition is key. The more they can get the trees of Purdue up and down the court and away from the basket, the better. It will pay dividends down the stretch. Montez Mathis could have another big game as well with the way he runs the floor. Take the Boilermakers out of their comfort zone by looking to run as often as possible in hopes of putting them on their heels and creating some sustained scoring runs.

It takes a village to win on the road

Both teams play a rotation of nine and are pretty deep, so whichever bench plays better could decide the outcome of this game. Rutgers is at its best when its getting major contributions from most of the rotation. The fact that they dominated Maryland with Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker as secondary scoring options shows the versatility this team has. However, I think those two will need big games to win on the road. Even so, Mathis and Young need to continue to play well, while Akwasi Yeboah and Paul Mulcahy need to contribute in addition to the two big men in Johnson and Carter. The real question is what will Rutgers get from Caleb McConnell, who is mired in a significant slump and only played 5 minutes on Tuesday. He led Rutgers with 16 points behind a 12 of 12 shooting performance from the free throw line in the first meeting against Purdue. A McConnell awakening would certainly give the Scarlet Knights a boost in this game. On the flip side, don’t let shooters like Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic get hot from behind the arc or it could be a long day.

Conquer Road Demons

Under Steve Pikiell, Mackey Arena has been a house of horrors, as Rutgers has lost to Purdue three times by an average of 28.3 points per game. This includes a 35 point loss in West Lafayette last season. It would be especially sweet for them to breakthrough on the road in a place they’ve played the worst away from the RAC in recent years. However, they can’t afford another slow start away from home and need to come out looking to take control immediately after tip-off on Saturday. They were looking to attack on both ends of the floor against Maryland and need to have the same tenacity in this game. This team knows they need a win away from the RAC to safely punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. It won’t be easy, as Purdue is on the outside looking in on the bubble right now and are desperate for a win to keep its hopes alive, as well as it being senior day. Rutgers has been extremely competitive on the road in conference play and despite being 1-8, note that all 8 losses are to teams currently ranked nationally and by an average margin of only 5.75 points per game. If they can play smart early and set the tone defensively from the outset, it will lead to the chance to finally.......

Appropriate Music Selection

For the last game of the regular season, I’m featuring “Break On Through” by the Doors, which is also an ode to my incredibly understanding wife, as the season takes up a lot of my time outside of my career. The Doors are one of her two favorite bands all-time, so while this song is perfect for this game situation, it’s also a tip of the cap to her. The good news is I’ve made her a Rutgers basketball fan over the years and she watches every game now with me.

As for this team, it’s simple. Rutgers has done everything imaginable this season except win a big game on the road. They’ve been painfully close, including 1 point stomach punch loss at Penn State in its last road contest. While they’ll have a neutral game opportunity in the Big Ten Tournament next week, winning on Saturday would make a significant statement. It would guarantee no worse than an program best 8th place finish in a season that the Big Ten is clearly the best conference in the country. It would lock up an NCAA Tournament bid in my opinion and give this team even more confidence heading into Indianapolis next week to begin postseason play. Rutgers controls its own destiny and can change the narrative that they can’t win on the road by beating a traditionally great home team in Purdue on senior day. They’ve “tried to run, tried to hide” but it’s time to “break on through to the other side” and win on the road!