In the mind of Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell, the Scarlet Knights’ season hasn’t quite reached the brink yet and an NCAA Tournament berth isn’t impossible.
“We have a lot of basketball left,” he said Tuesday night after a 68-60 Big Ten home loss to Maryland. “Last year, we had to win the last game of the season in Minnesota. So it’s a long season; you just keep plugging through.
“This is a league that a lot of teams are going to have a lot of losses. And then we have the (conference) tournament after that. So there’s a lot of different ways that we can make our season to where we want to be.”
The first way to go about it is to get a win Saturday when Rutgers visits Nebraska (6-14, 0-9 Big Ten) for another Big Ten game. It’s a game on paper that the Scarlet Knights should win, particularly since they waxed the Cornhuskers 93-65 on Jan. 8 at home.
But Rutgers (11-8, 5-4) also was supposed to win at Minnesota on Jan. 22 and didn’t, falling 68-65. It was favored to beat Maryland Tuesday night, but fell behind 35-15 and never really threatened to win after that.
The Scarlet Knights, who get 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game from Ron Harper Jr., can’t afford any more letdowns. Six of their eight games in February are against current Top 25 teams.
Meanwhile, Nebraska dropped its seventh straight game Thursday as No. 11 Wisconsin took a 73-65 win that wasn’t quite as close as the score indicates. The Badgers led by as many as 18 points with under 11 minutes left and stayed in control, even when the Cornhuskers drew within seven.
Missing 24 of 28 shots in an 18-minute stretch that bridged the halves doomed Nebraska.
“When you have a stretch like we did, it’s tough to win,” Cornhuskers coach Fred Hoiberg told the Lincoln Journal-Star.
Freshman guard Bryce McGowens paces Nebraska with 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, but the Cornhuskers have been porous defensively, yielding 79.1 points per game — No. 340 out of 350 teams in the nation.
–Field Level Media