No. 24 Rutgers and host Illinois will both try to bounce back from a loss and make some headway in a crowded Big Ten Conference when they play Saturday afternoon in Champaign, Ill.
The Scarlet Knights (16-8, 8-5 Big Ten) dropped a 66-60 result at No. 18 Indiana on Tuesday, leaving them tied for second place in the conference. Among the many teams on their heels is Illinois (16-7, 7-5), which last played Feb. 4 and lost 81-79 at Iowa.
Rutgers trailed for most of the game against the Hoosiers, though it reined in an early 14-point deficit to just three points by halftime. Cam Spencer and Derek Simpson made consecutive baskets to draw within 59-56 with 3:29 left, but Indiana’s 5-0 run in response put the game away.
The Scarlet Knights continue to perform better on defense than offense. They are rated No. 2 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and they fell to 0-7 when allowing 66 or more points this season. Rutgers is 16-1 when keeping opponents to 65 or fewer.
Coach Steve Pikiell noted Indiana’s 17-6 advantage in points at the foul line.
“You gotta defend these guys without fouling them, and that becomes a huge key in this game,” Pikiell said. “It’s just another way to score. When our defense was set, I felt pretty good about it.”
Before the Indiana game, Rutgers announced that starting forward Mawot Mag would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Aundre Hyatt moved into the starting lineup and scored nine points. Reserve Oskar Palmquist saw more minutes again and also scored nine, going 3-for-4 from behind the arc.
Mag averaged 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game before his injury. Hyatt provides 9.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while center Clifford Omoruyi has remained solid with team highs of 13.5 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Illinois will have had a week off between games after a contest scheduled for Tuesday was postponed because Minnesota had COVID-19 issues arise.
Illinois’ three-game win streak ended in its last game, one that featured nine ties and nine lead changes. Iowa’s Payton Sandfort broke a 76-76 tie on a 3-pointer with 1:23 left, and the Hawkeyes held on at the foul line to beat the Illini.
“We weren’t disciplined enough to win this game on the road,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “And that’s something I thought we had managed to conquer, but obviously it reared its ugly head today.”
Matthew Mayer has led Illinois in scoring for three straight games. He put up 21 points against Iowa on 7-of-9 shooting, 4-of-6 from deep.
Terrence Shannon Jr. does a bit of everything for the Illini on the wing, with team highs of 17.0 points and 1.4 steals per game, plus 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Big man Coleman Hawkins adds team highs of 6.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists to go with 9.3 points per game.
Rutgers has won three of the past five meetings with Illinois but has never won in Champaign. The Fighting Illini, who lead the all-time series 10-4, are 11-2 at home this season while the Scarlet Knights are 2-5 on the road.
–Field Level Media