Effort, Talent are Issues in Five-Game Skid

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Two straight blowout losses for Rutgers have the Scarlet Knights questioning both effort and talent against fellow Big Ten foes. The historic Wisconsin upset is a memory after five straight losses, and the hill steepens tomorrow at No. 22 Indiana.

Let’s get one thing straight. Rutgers basketball already exceeded national expectations in the 2014-15 season.

Multiple Big Ten wins, the first victory over a top-five team in program history, multiple high-major road victories and 10 wins before February – all tremendous and unexpected accomplishments for Eddie Jordan and his players.

But that is no excuse to coast the rest of the way, and that is what blowout losses to Penn State and Michigan resembled.

“No,” said senior captain Kadeem Jack when asked if the effort was there. “The last two games have been horrible. We’ve played really badly and I think Coach is going to come back with something for us. … I think it’s a little of both [effort and execution]. When you’re losing by double digits like this on the road and at home, it has a lot to do with effort.”

Michigan State and Penn State, with 28- and 20-point blowouts over Rutgers, won the hustle plays against the Scarlet Knights.

The Nittany Lions outscored Rutgers 15-2 in transition, 14-4 in second-chance scoring and shot 30 percent better from the free throw line.

The Spartans also exposed Rutgers in transition with 18 points as Tom Izzo’s team outrebounded Rutgers 43-28.

Perhaps most alarmingly, they shot a combined 18-of-40 from long range with plenty of open looks.

Jordan said after the game that he sees plenty of effort from his players, but they underestimated the talent and execution of Michigan State.

“The effort was there but we didn’t understand how good they were at doing that sort of thing,” Jordan said. “I thought we woke up after the first two-and-a-half minutes or so. Then we settled down and we got physical and we got some rebounds but they just wear on you. The next 36 minutes, they just keep coming at you and obviously it’s a talent level.”

The limited Rutgers roster becomes even more fatigued this week with an injured Bishop Daniels and Mike Williams (ankle) out against Michigan State.

Is fatigue a factor? Jordan says yes, but his players do not want excuses for their play.

“Mentally, I don’t want to say that,” Daniels said on team fatigue. “That’s just something he’s putting out there because we’re not getting it done. At the end of the day, we’ve got to step it up regardless of how many minutes we’re playing. We knew what we were getting into when we got here. I’m not blaming that anymore.”

Rutgers (10-12, 2-7) sits two wins away from Jordan’s first season. The former Washington Wizards head coach came home to a situation beyond rock bottom.

Jordan faces a massive rebuilding effort, and still needs his signature guard in the program. That could be a more experienced Mike Williams, or an academically-eligible Corey Sanders. Until then, Jordan brings a different approach to practices.

“You have to make it fun for them,” Jordan said. “You have to drive them. You have to teach them. You have to make it fun. We come in every day and make it a good atmosphere, a great environment where they can learn, where they compete. We try to build their skills and improve their skills.

“… These are life skills and life lessons too. I don’t want our kids to come in and feel discouraged and beat up and feel like they don’t have a chance. We come in every day and try to make it a positive.

Regardless of talent, it’s Jordan’s job to get the best effort possible out of his roster or risk a lot more than the active five-game losing streak. Rutgers does not have the same talent as top-tier Big Ten teams, but sometimes effort and coaching are enough.

Just ask Wisconsin after its loss at the RAC.

Rutgers resumes play tomorrow at Indiana with a more fatigued roster and Williams still unavailable.

“We can’t do anything about those losses now except build from them,” said captain Myles Mack, who spent his first hour after Thursday’s loss working on his jump shot. “Try to build from these losses and try to get a win on Saturday.”

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