With a chance to unofficially clinch the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in 30 years, Rutgers basketball gave new meaning to what a no show performance entailed. It was the worst played game of the Steve Pikiell era and it came when the team was on the cusp of accomplishing something great. The lack of passion and effort that Rutgers played with raised serious concern for how this team will perform the rest of the season.
After Nebraska led 10-9 with just under four minutes into the game, Lat Mayen hit consecutive three-pointers and it all went downhill from there. It started a 13-2 run and the Cornhuskers never looked back. They dominated Rutgers in every phase of the game and held a commanding 43-25 lead at the half. Nebraska shot 55.2% from the floor, including 6 of 12 from three-point range. The Scarlet Knights were 11 of 16 from two-point range, but were a horrific 1 of 12 from three and committed 9 turnovers.
It only got worse after halftime, as Nebraska extended the lead to 57-31 with just over six minutes in and led by as many as 30 points. Rutgers lost by the final score of 72-51 only due to some inspired play from the end of the bench with two freshmen, as Mag Mawot scored 4 points and Jaden Jones made his first career three-pointer.
This was a total and utter embarrassment. Nebraska was on pace to finish Big Ten play with the league’s worst offensive efficiency rating in three seasons, a mark held by Rutgers. They had played 11 games in 23 days after a month long pause due to COVID-19. Their leading scorer, Teddy Allen, quit the program earlier in the morning. Yes, they were coming off a win but it was against a collapsing Minnesota team without two starters. And yet, with everything on the line for Rutgers, they played so poorly that the issue was never really in doubt.
The offense was abysmal. It was stagnant with little ball movement, and turned into a three-point shooting contest outside of the flow of the offense. Rutgers finished 3 of 23 from three for 13%. There was no drive and dishing like in the Indiana game. Myles Johnson only took 2 shots in the game. The had a -10 rebounding margin and got outscored in the paint 38-32. It was a pass it around the perimeter and let if fly kind of night. Rutgers will never succeed, let alone be competitive, playing that way.
It’s actually more disturbing how awful they were on the defensive end. The Cornhuskers were able to drive the lane and get to the rim at will. Rutgers defenders were beat off the dribble regularly. There was no crashing of the boards. There was no fight for loose balls. The hardest Rutgers worked on the defensive end was retrieving the ball after so many made baskets by Nebraska.
This is a damaging loss in more ways than one. Nebraska should actually move up to Quad 2 after this win, but will they stay there by the end of the season? The final score will also cause Rutgers’ NET ranking to slide backwards in a really negative way.
Does a win against Minnesota on Saturday still make Rutgers a lock for the NCAA Tournament at 10 wins in Big Ten play? That is probably the case, but how much hope can there be after this performance that they will actually win that game?
There is too much experience on this roster and with the coaching staff for such an embarrassing loss at this stage.
Steve Pikiell and Geo Baker talked after the game about the need to bounce back after a loss like this and how the program has gotten off the mat many times before. It’s true that Rutgers under Pikiell seems to play its best basketball when its the ultimate underdog and its backs are against the wall. Let’s hope it happens again. Even if it does, it will be hard to shake the feeling of witnessing the worst performance of the Pikiell era coming with the ultimate opportunity on the line.
If they can respond and beat Minnesota on Saturday, this performance could ultimately end up being a nightmare chapter in a season that still finishes with a happy ending. However, if it ends up being a true sign that a collapse is imminent, you can’t say we weren’t warned.