When Rutgers hosts Clemson Tuesday night, it will be a rematch of the Scarlet Knights’ 60-56 NCAA tournament first-round win of last season. But Rutgers won’t really be thinking about that.
The Scarlet Knights simply need a win.
Rutgers (3-3) squandered a 17-point second-half lead in an 85-83 loss to Massachusetts on Saturday and already is fighting for its at-large NCAA tournament life because it already has suffered defeats against Lafayette, UMass and DePaul. Those losses could be major negatives on Rutgers’ resume unless it finishes near or at the top of the Big Ten.
“We’ve got a long season,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said after the loss. “I told you guys (media) I like this team. … We work hard in practice. We were well-prepared for this game. Now I’m blending in a new lineup without Geo Baker. But if we keep playing the way we played together, we’ll be fine.”
Baker, Rutgers’ star guard, missed the UMass game with a hamstring injury and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game. Without him, Ron Harper Jr. (15.0 points) will have to carry the load.
Clemson (5-2) also blew double-digit second-half leads in losses to St. Bonaventure and West Virginia at the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic on Nov. 19 and 21. PJ Hall averages 13.9 points for the Tigers.
“I think our team learned a lot from both those games,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said after a 91-59 victory over Charleston Southern on Nov. 26. “It’s unfortunate we lost them both. I hope it got our guys’ attention. We’re a good team. We can do some good things. But we’re like most teams in college basketball in that our margin for error is very small.”
Clemson was outscored 19-4 in second-chance points in those two losses.
“We’re a little smaller,” Brownell said of his team’s rebounding, “so we’ve got to fight at times. It’s something we work on a lot. It’s certainly going to be a key moving forward.”
–Field Level Media