No. 25 Rutgers hopes to feast on bottom-dwelling Northwestern
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While No. 25 Rutgers has experienced difficulties beating the top teams of the Big Ten, it has been able to play well against teams in the middle of the pack and at the bottom of the standings.
Following a disappointing loss at Iowa, the Scarlet Knights seek a rebound performance Saturday when they host struggling Northwestern in Piscataway, N.J.
Rutgers (11-7, 7-7 Big Ten) is coming off a 79-66 loss at No. 15 Iowa on Wednesday that snapped a four-game winning streak. Wednesday's loss dropped the Scarlet Knights to 1-5 against the top five teams in the league (Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa) and their defense has allowed 77.6 points in those games.
"The league is really good and it's especially really challenging on the road," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. "You got to play better than we played tonight."
The Scarlet Knights are 6-2 against the rest of the league. They allowed 58.8 points in their four-game winning streak.
"We felt like we've been in every single game with these top teams," said Rutgers guard Geo Baker, who led the team with 11 points Wednesday. "We know how good we are."
On Wednesday, Rutgers shot 34.5 percent in the first half, 43.8 percent overall and misfired on a 22 of 28 3-point tries. Besides the shooting woes, the Scarlet Knights were outrebounded 42-31, partially because big men Myles Johnson and Cliff Omoruyi played through foul trouble and combined for 10 points and six rebounds.
Another area that did not help Rutgers was a quiet nine-point showing from leading scorer Ron Harper Jr., who is averaging 16.4 points. But since scoring 18 at Penn State on Jan. 21, he is shooting 36 percent (18 of 50) and is 1 of 21 from 3-point range in those five games.
Northwestern (6-11, 3-10) enters on a 10-game losing streak after taking a 79-76 double-overtime loss to Indiana on Wednesday. It is the Wildcats' second straight season with a double-digit losing streak after it lost 12 in a row from Jan. 14-Feb. 27, 2020.
On Wednesday, the Wildcats blew a 14-point lead, squandered a seven-point edge in the final 2:16 of regulation and lost by single digits for the fourth straight game.
"We played pretty well today," Wildcats forward Pete Nance said. "We were a couple mistakes away from turning the corner. There were a couple key plays, key moments that hurt us and they made the plays and we didn't."
One of those close losses for Northwestern was a 64-56 home defeat to Rutgers on Jan. 31 when the Wildcats committed 20 turnovers and allowed the Scarlet Knights to shoot 48.9 percent.
Against Indiana, Northwestern lost despite allowing 35.5 percent shooting and did not allow a point for the first 5:35 of the game. Chase Audige led the Wildcats with 19 points and has led Northwestern in scoring five times. Robbie Beran and Nance added 12 apiece but the Wildcats wound up getting outrebounded 50-38 and getting outshot at the free throw line 38-12.
"For them to come out and play as hard as they did, I'm just heartbroken that we weren't able to come away with a win," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 12, 2021