Rutgers basketball had not seen a Big Ten second round during its first two years in the conference.
By the tone of Thursday night's first half, Rutgers still hasn't played in the second round.
A 31-0 run that will live in infamy for the Rutgers fan base, all the roster had to gain in the
second half was a experience.
“You saw our weaknesses," said coach Steve Pikiell. "But I'm proud of where we're headed -- have a great staff, work for a great athletic director, building a new facility. There's a lot of great things going on at Rutgers. I'm excited to be the head coach. We have a lot of work to do. I'll be on the road tomorrow. We'll keep working. Again, we'll be back."
Nigel Johnson mercifully ended the 11-minute run with a deep jumper.
Rutgers (15-18) fought hard after the run, outscoring Northwestern by three points the rest of the way. Johnson led Rutgers again in his hometown arena with 21 points off the bench.
“As a team, we learned how to fight and how to never give up,” Johnson said. “We learned about the importance of defense and rebounding and being dogs. [Pikiell] instilled about the right way to play and how to have heart. That's something we can all take and come back with next year.”
While Corey Sanders fought through two inconsistent games at the Verizon Center, freshman Issa Thiam finally showed on a real stage what his teammates saw all season in practice. Thaim hit three triples in 22 minutes to close out his freshman season.
“I think this team was the start of making Rutgers basketball a special basketball program," Pikiell said. "They've done it off the court and on the court, academically. We're going to compete, be in games, play teams. We're not going to back down. I am just proud. Thjey've done that all year, no matter what the score was, they fought."
The first year of the Pikiell era ends with Rutgers at a 15-18 record. The stay ended with a message from athletic director Pat Hobbs to the team.
“It was great to hear from a guy of his stature,” said senior CJ Gettys after his final game. “Coming in and giving us confidence and telling us that what we did this year was a 360-turnaround from last year. To be part of that, I'm thankful to coach Pikiell and the staff, Pat Hobbs and Rutgers University as a whole.”