It was known that Rutgers was fighting an uphill battle with the gauntlet they have on their schedule in February. To the surprise of many, it began on the very first day of the month.
The Scarlet Knights fell behind Northwestern by 24 points at the Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, IL before mounting an insane comeback. Rutgers fell just short after five extra minutes and suffered a 79-78 loss.
A career night by Paul Mulcahy was highlighted by a wrap around pass to Cliff Omoruyi for a dunk to tie the game with one second left in the second half. The Scarlet Knights did not lead in regulation but they were able to give themselves a chance in overtime.
Mulcahy finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. He was 10-for-13 from the field and 9-for-11 from the free throw line. Omoruyi totaled 22 points while Ron Harper Jr. added 16 of his own.
Rutgers has been unable to figure out the early portions of games and this was no different. The Scarlet Knights did not shoot well and could not defend in the first half. This is how a team falls in an 18-point hole heading into the break.
Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights made adjustments and came roaring back. The Wildcats went up 24 with 17 minutes left in the game. From that moment on, Rutgers outscored Northwestern 42-18 to tie the game. A Mulcahy jump shot was the first bucket of overtime before Chase Audige answered with a three. Rutgers was unable to get back on top.
The Scarlet Knights cut the lead to one with just over a minute left in overtime and were able to get a stop. A Geo Baker pass went wide and sailed out of bounds with 21 seconds left. Ron Harper Jr. had a shot to win it in the closing seconds but the shot missed off the front rim.
Rutgers will now have five consecutive games against ranked opponents. It has been clear that the Scarlet Knights will need to win the Big Ten Tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. After three losses in four games, the NIT Tournament might be in jeopardy as well.
This game surfaced the age-old question — would you rather lose a heartbreaker or get blown out? Rutgers featured both options. The answer is clear. You always want a chance to win a game but it does not make the pill easier to swallow. After dropping a winnable game on the road, it is time to buckle up for what could be a long month.