Five minutes into the game Sunday night, feelings were uneasy. At halftime, the wheels were completely off.
Fast forward to 40 minutes and the vibe around a teetering Rutgers’ team has completely changed.
The Scarlet Knights erased a 19-point deficit at Bryce Jordan Center in University Park to steal a 59-56 road victory over Penn State. This ends a three-game skid against the Nittany Lions in State College and moves them two games ahead of Penn State in the standings. Rutgers is now in a three-way tie with Illinois and Iowa for sixth in the Big Ten.
A breakout game for Derek Simpson helped Rutgers earn its sixth Quad 1 victory of the year. With two games in the regular season, the Scarlet Knights can sit comfortably in the NCAA Tournament mix with one win. They also sit one game out of a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
A putrid offensive performance against Michigan last time out carried over into Sunday night. Rutgers scored nine points through the first 11 minutes of the game. Penn State used a 24-4 run in the first 12 minute to take a 17-point lead.
Simpson, who finished with a team-high 16 points, scored the final seven of the first half for Rutgers to get within 10. All hope felt lost once again as Penn State quickly got the lead back up to 19 early in the second half. From that moment on, Rutgers used a 38-16 run to take the lead. It got back to playing its midseason game on both ends of the floor.
In the second half, Rutgers shot 50% from the field while Penn State shot 7-for-25. Cam Spencer finished with 12 points and six rebounds while Caleb McConnell added 12, along with some Defensive-Player-of-the-Year plays down the stretch — including holding his ground and forcing a Jalen Pickett travel with 21 seconds remaining.
Rutgers will be on the road again on Thursday to take on Minnesota before returning home for Northwestern in the season-finale. Two games left in the regular season before Rutgers enters the Big Ten Tournament with high hopes. Is this the game that could spark momentum heading into the postseason? We will find out soon enough.