Rutgers hopes for return to top form vs. Rider

Sports

After losing an important in-state rivalry game its last time on the court, Rutgers will return to action against another New Jersey opponent in Rider on Saturday at Piscataway, N.J.

Inconsistency has been the theme of the season for Rutgers (5-5). It reached an undeniable high point when it upset then-No. 1 Purdue on Dec. 9, thanks to a buzzer-beating 40-foot shot by Ron Harper Jr.

Three days later, the Scarlet Knights could not piece together a similar effort on the road against then-No. 23 Seton Hall, losing 77-63. Ten first-half turnovers made it difficult for Rutgers to establish any offensive rhythm early.

“Too many turnovers in the first half, and second shots really hurt us,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “I thought we had a little momentum there in the second half. I thought we played Rutgers basketball for about eight minutes there, but just not enough.”

Harper, who leads Rutgers in points (15.8) and rebounds (7.9) per game, matched his career-high with 30 points against Purdue but managed only 10 against the Pirates. He has shot a combined 50 percent from the floor in Rutgers’ five wins and just 31.6 percent in its five losses.

After missing four games while dealing with a hamstring injury, followed by the flu, Geo Baker returned for Rutgers against Seton Hall, coming off the bench to score 11. Caleb McConnell stepped up with his best game of the season, leading the Scarlet Knights with 13 points, 12 rebounds and three assists.

Rider (3-8) is on a four-game losing streak and last played during the first week of December, when it opened MAAC play with losses to Iona and Marist. Dimencio Vaughn, in his sixth NCAA season, scored a season-high 28 points for the Broncs in their Dec. 5 loss to Marist, 79-67.

That game, at least, was closer than an 80-54 blowout to Iona two days prior.

“I don’t remember having a team get punched in the mouth from start to finish the way we did,” Rider coach Kevin Baggett said following the Iona game, per Rider’s student news service. “We didn’t fight back.”

Rutgers is 12-1 all-time against Rider; they have not met since 2012.

–Field Level Media

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