Rutgers looks to keep Northwestern reeling

NCAA Basketball

Rutgers is fresh off a dominating performance that will be hard to equal Sunday night in a Big Ten tilt against host Northwestern at Evanston, Ill.

The Scarlet Knights not only defeated Michigan State for the first time on Thursday but they walloped the Spartans in every facet while producing a 67-37 home victory.

Rutgers held Michigan State to 28.6 percent shooting and scored 33 points off 21 forced turnovers while allowing its fewest points in a conference game since a 30-29 loss against St. Bonaventure on Jan. 25, 1982, four years before the NCAA adopted the shot clock.

“Our guys were locked in and we’ve had signs of being a good defensive team,” Scarlet Knights coach Steve Pikiell said. “We kind of put it together and everyone contributed, our length, steals, blocks. We had a little bit of everything, but our guys were locked in and they were connected.”

Rutgers (9-6, 5-6 Big Ten) has won two straight games after losing its previous five.

Northwestern (6-8, 3-7 Big Ten) is struggling badly with seven consecutive setbacks. The Wildcats’ last win was more than a month ago — a 71-70 home triumph over then-No. 23 Ohio State on Dec. 26.

The first six losses of the stretch were all by double digits before Northwestern fell 81-78 at Penn State on Jan. 23.

The Wildcats had a chance to halt their skid when they led by four with less than 4 1/2 minutes remaining but the Nittany Lions went on a 10-0 burst en route to victory.

“It’s not a mental thing,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “It’s an execution thing. Our guys are playing really hard.”

The Wildcats received good scoring balance with Miller Kopp scoring 19 points, Boo Buie adding 18 and Pete Nance contributing 17. Kopp averages a team-leading 13.6 points.

“It wasn’t the offense,” Collins said. “(Scoring) 78 points, shooting almost 50 percent in the game, you should be able to win. We did not get the stops we needed.”

Northwestern owns a 10-4 series lead, but Rutgers has won three of the past four meetings.

Geo Baker was the star for the Scarlet Knights in last season’s meeting as Rutgers overcame an 18-point, first-half deficit to post a 77-73 home overtime victory. Baker scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half and overtime.

Myles Johnson and Baker had solid efforts in steamrolling Michigan State. Johnson was superb with 13 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots for his fourth double-double of the season.

“You guys see what kind of elite defender that he is, but he does a lot of things for us,” Pikiell said of Johnson, who leads the team in rebounding (8.9) and blocked shots (36). “He’s a good screener, he’s a good passer, keeps basketballs alive, he can really guard, he’s really gotten to the point where he can guard almost any position. His best days are ahead of him and he’s a great teammate.”

Baker had a career-best five steals to go with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists.

–Field Level Media

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