A much-needed bounce-back win in a pivotal point of the season for the Scarlet Knights came against the normally strong Wisconsin Badgers as they narrowly won by a 64-60 final at the RAC last Friday. This was following two horrible losses to two inferior opponents and an absolute drubbing at Purdue was a game that could have gone either way.
A loss probably would have complete sunk Rutgers as the Big Ten schedule doesn’t get any easier moving forward and they needed some resemblance of confidence to build upon. DeShawn Freeman and Eugene Omoruyi had strong games on the defensive end, frustrating Badgers star forward Ethan Happ. Happ, the do-it-all post player for Wisconsin, was frustrated from the very beginning and was forced into an uncharacteristic six turnovers in defeat. He was able to get a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but he was not nearly the driving factor as he had been in years past.
I thought Rutgers was the worst team in the Big Ten, but I’m not sure after they beat Wisconsin tonight.
— Marcus R. Fuller (@Marcus_R_Fuller) January 6, 2018
For the Scarlet Knights, they were paced by junior point guard Corey Sanders, who had a career-high 23 points, building on what has been a string of good performances in recent games. Sanders, an uber-athletic guard with an ability to penetrate against pretty much any defender he draws, used his improving mid-range game to carry Rutgers to a victory. He has been able to improve his foul-line extended pull up dramatically from last year and it has shown in the two previous wins for Rutgers against Seton Hall and Wisconsin. If he is playing with the confidence he did last game, he will be able to help Rutgers get over the hump as they move towards the meat of the conference Slate.
Next for Rutgers is tonight’s matchup in East Lansing, to face what would have been the no. 1 team in the country, Michigan State. After a shocking upset to the much-improved Buckeyes of Ohio State, Tom Izzo will have his team playing angry as they try and write the ship. That spells trouble for Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights because a team as talented as the Spartans playing with any sort of chip on their shoulder will be a boatload to handle.
Rutgers and Michigan State faced off a month ago at the RAC in what was a tightly contested game throughout. Michigan State was up by two points with about four minutes left to play before they eventually pulled away to defeat Rutgers by 10 when it was all over.
This game at home for Sparty, shouldn’t be as close.
Miles Bridges, who was nursing an ankle injury during the first matchup, was too much to handle for the Scarlet Knights, and that was at less than 100%. A fully healthy Bridges should dominate this contest and pace his team to a much easier victory this time around. Michigan State has Final Four aspirations and is a team that could possibly cut down the nets in early April, so look for them to get focused and recover from a Sunday loss in conference play.
After the matchup with Sparty, the Scarlet Knights schedule will let up a bit in terms of quality opponents. Having both games against MSU, and already facing the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Rutgers will have gotten the top two teams in the conference off their schedule for the remainder of the season.
Rutgers will need to pick up more wins against teams that aren’t playing as strong as usual as well as hope to knock off some of the upper echelon teams in order to have a strong season in 2017-18, but this year remains a year of growth. If they can keep the arrow going in the right direction, then the fans in Piscataway will be happy to see the team finally moving forward.