Panic time in Piscataway.
Rutgers entered a must-win contest on Thursday night against Penn State and did not get off the bus until midway through the second half. Penn State came out and punched the Scarlet Knights in the nose early on as they picked up their first Big Ten victory with a 75-67 triumph.
The Scarlet Knights have now lost five in a row and six of their last seven games. They are now 3-6 in the Big Ten. Just a few weeks back, Rutgers could have been penciled into the NCAA Tournament but the odds keep decreasing on the Scarlet Knights’ chances of breaking a 30-year tournament drought.
Penn State jumped out to a 15-4 lead over the first seven minutes. The offensive struggles continued for the Scarlet Knights in this one. The Nittany Lions came into this game as one of the top three-point shooting teams in the conference but it was their ability to control the paint that gave them the edge.
In the first half, Penn State went 11-for-14 at the rim and led 34-24 after 20 minutes. Over the course of the game, the Nittany Lions out rebounded Rutgers 40-27, including 12 on the offensive end. The Scarlet Knights turned it over 12 times in this loss and finished 6-11 from the free throw line.
Rutgers did not show any signs of life until the 10:30 mark in the second half. After falling behind 54-36, Rutgers went on an 11-0 run to get the game to within seven. A Geo Baker three got the Scarlet Knights within four with 4:16 left but that was as close as they were able to get. Baker finished with two makes from deep. Ron Harper Jr. led the way with 18 points on 7-15 from the field.
The Scarlet Knights came inches away from stealing a game from a poor Penn State squad. Instead, it was the Nittany Lions who picked up their first conference victory and a much-deserved one at that.
The struggles for Rutgers continue and they have reached a new low after Thursday’s contest. The schedule will not get any easier as the Scarlet Knights prepare to play their second straight in a row on the road Sunday against Indiana before returning home to take on Michigan State next Thursday.
Rutgers will have a chance to turn things around over their final 11 games against some big-time opponents. The postseason is not out of the question at this moment but the team will have to find a way to pick up some wins in a very difficult conference. If not, it will be another early end to the season and one that will be disappointing.