Rutgers made its first appearance in the AP Top 25 poll in nearly two years last week and it did not go well.
After producing a horrific showing at Michigan State, Rutgers hopes to recover Tuesday night when it hosts Penn State in Piscataway, N.J.
The Scarlet Knights (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten) rose to No. 23 last week but dropped out in this week’s poll after a dud at Michigan State.
Rutgers was ranked for the first time since February 2021 after winning seven of eight games at the same time it received a commitment from Class of 2024 five-star forward Airious “Ace” Bailey, the first five-star recruit in program history.
After their four-point home win over Ohio State on Jan. 15 elevated the Scarlet Knights over other teams that had received votes, they shot 34.4 percent in Thursday’s 70-57 loss at Michigan State. It was their fourth-lowest field goal percentage this season and the eighth time they shot under 40 percent, including the fourth instance in a conference game.
Rutgers also faded after a quick start and its starters struggled to get into a rhythm as it shot 2 of 17 from 3-point range and allowed the Spartans to shoot 47.3 percent from the field, the second-highest mark of the season by an opponent and highest in a conference game.
Clifford Omoruyi posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds but also shot 5 of 13 and is shooting 35.8 percent (19 of 53) over his past six contests. Cam Spencer, who hit game-winning shots in road wins over Purdue on Jan. 2 and Northwestern Jan. 11, was held to eight points on 3-of-14 shooting while going 1-for-8 from 3-point range.
“We had a run at the beginning of the game and they had the next run,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We were never able to get over the hill against a good team.”
Penn State (13-6, 4-4), whom Pikiell described as “another obstacle,” has dropped three of its past five games since its 83-79 home win over Iowa on Jan. 1. The Nittany Lions have lost two of their three conference road games so far, but their win was a 15-point dismantling of Illinois on Dec. 10 when the Ilini were ranked No. 17.
Penn State heads to Rutgers after pulling away for a 76-65 win over visiting Nebraska on Saturday afternoon. The Nittany Lions scored the game’s first 10 points and never trailed.
Andrew Funk hit five 3-pointers and scored 23 points after missing a buzzer-beater at Wisconsin last Tuesday. He is 15 of 30 from 3-point range over his past three games.
“After he missed those shots at Wisconsin, he kind of put that on himself,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said of Funk. “He got two great looks, and I’m gonna take them any day of the week, but he was upset after that game. For him to bounce back and respond like this, I’m proud of him. That’s what seniors do.”
Seth Lundy added 16 points as Penn State shot 49.1 percent, including 68 percent in the second half. The Nittany Lions also survived Jalen Pickett committing seven turnovers although he contributed 12 points.
–Field Level Media