The streaky Rutgers men’s basketball team continues to string together wins in an impressive, yet unprecedented fashion.
Thursday night’s hard-fought, 76-72 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers – one that ended with most folks already in bed with a late, 9 PM tip-off to accommodate the game being nationally televised on FS1 – marked the fourth straight win over a Big Ten opponent for the Scarlet Knights, which was the first time in program history they’ve been able to accomplish the feat.
You’d have to go all the way back to the 2003-04 season, when Rutgers was still in the Big East, for the last time they strung together four consecutive wins in league play.
The Scarlet Knights used a late 10-2 run to get the job done, one that capped off a balanced offensive attack that saw Geo Baker (16), Myles Johnson (14) and Caleb McConnell (14) all finish with double-digit points.
Considering this stretch comes on the heels of a five-game losing streak, and head coach Steve Pikiell will take the wins however they come.
“I’m really proud of the way we’re defending now, and rebounding too,” he said. “We didn’t get caught up, we made free throws in the second half to wrap things up. Good teams do those things. You’ve got to get big stops, we did when we had to. When we got fouled, we made the free throws, and we executed down the stretch on the possessions that we had to execute on. Overall, just really happy.”
As he should be.
For now, anyway. The next game for Rutgers is a trip to No. 8 Iowa, a big matchup against a Hawkeyes team that squeaked out a 77-75 win over the Scarlet Knights at the RAC earlier this year. Pikiell called Iowa “one of the toughest places in the league to play,” and is well aware of the challenge getting a win there will be.
In the meantime, however, his team will get a what he calls a “well-deserved” few days off, as well as all of the credit for once again getting its season turned around.
“The team figured it out, they decided that they wanted to be a really good defensive basketball team and they wanted to get back to doing the things that made us successful,” Pikiell said.
“But, this league is just so good. I don’t know if anyone quite realizes the challenges that are in this league. You can be a real good team and be on a streak one way or the other. Our team, a tip of the hat to all of them. They’ve had better practices, they’ve done a better job of stopping the other team’s best player, they’ve done a good job boxing out. Credit to all of them for stepping it up and doing a terrific job. It’s their season, and they can make what they want out of it.”