Stopping the Skid: Rutgers Hits the Road with Confidence in Spite of Three Straight Losses

Can Rutgers basketball be next in a line of thrilling Big Ten upsets? The Scarlet Knights take their defensive physicality and aggressive rebounding on the road to East Lansing.

Take one look around the Big Ten basketball scene, and a three-game losing streak does not have Rutgers afraid heading into Wednesday's battle with Michigan State.

Between Nebraska's shocking start and Minnesota's overtime win over Purdue, Rutgers does not fear tomorrow's road trip to Michigan State.

“It's basketball,” said senior center CJ Gettys. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. As long as we come with the right mindset, we prepare, we work hard, we execute our game plan, we can beat anybody.”

Spartan coach Tom Izzo gave Steve Pikiell and company another wrinkle in the game plan with Miles Bridges' return to the court.

Before injury, Bridges was an electric freshman with 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in nonconference play.

“I just try to win the next game,” Pikiell said. “This group here has been tough and we've had some tough practices. Nobody said this was going to be easy.”

Rutgers (11-4, 0-2) faces its first real losing streak of the Pikiell era after consecutive losses to Seton Hall, Wisconsin and Penn State.

More familiar with a losing streak than anyone else in the building, junior guard Mike Williams called this one different. He, and other leaders, do not feel a snowball effect incoming.

“I feel like our team, we're coming together more as brothers,” said Williams, who leads Rutgers with 12.1 points per game. “This team is coming together more. I have a feeling that we're not going to let that happen to us. We realize that losing streaks are really tough to get out of. Like Coach said, we've just got to keep going back at it in practice and have great practices before we go on to Michigan State.”

Hard work won't be enough against Michigan State.

From the worlds of Pikiell, missed shots are going to happen for a team without serious threats on the perimeter. The turnovers, however, were out of character in let-down showing against Penn State on New Year's Day.

Rutgers turned it over 17 times – four above its season average – against a depleted Penn State roster in front of the largest crowd of the season.

“We tried to go outside what we normally do,” Williams said. “I guess everybody is pretty excited about the Big Ten and stuff like that.”

By the way...

  • The 6,079 at the RAC Sunday was the largest home crowd of the season. “My first two years here, I'd been seeing a lot of empty seats,” Williams said. “For me being a junior here and seeing pretty much all of the seats filled, it gets me riled up. It gets me hype. I feel like Rutgers basketball has finally changed for the better.”
  • Williams' 16 points and 10 boards against Penn State marked his third-career double double.
  • Corey Sanders (ankle) gave Rutgers 23 minutes and 10 points off the bench after injury at Wisconsin.
  • Rutgers remains a strong rebounding team with the uptick in competition. The Scarlet Knights rank seventh in rebounds per game (43.3) and 10th in rebounding margin (+9.4).
  • Pikiell's three-game losing streak is his longest as a head coach since 2014 when Stony Brook lost four straight road games against Cincinnati, Princeton, Providence and Canisius. 

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