No. 25 Rutgers aims to stay perfect at home vs. Purdue

NCAA Men's Basketball
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A perfect home record is a significant reason why Rutgers is ranked for the first time since the end of the 1978-79 season.

The Scarlet Knights are once again ranked — at No. 25 in the latest poll — and will attempt to maintain their unblemished home record Tuesday night when they host Purdue.

Rutgers (15-5, 6-3 Big Ten) is off to its best 20-game start since the 1982-83 season when it won 23 games and is attempting to surpass 15 wins for the first time since the 2005-06 team finished 19-14 and reached the second round of the NIT under coach Gary Waters.

The Scarlet Knights barely split their first two games as a ranked team. After a five-point loss at No. 19 Iowa on Wednesday, Rutgers survived blowing a 14-point lead, scored the last nine points and eked out a 75-72 win over Nebraska on Saturday.

“Our defense wasn’t great, but it was great when it needed to be, and our offense, too, so I’m happy for that,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “It’s how you have to win games sometimes — you have to grind them out.”

Geo Baker, who is still working his way back from a broken hand, hit the game-winning 3-pointer with one second remaining and Rutgers improved to 14-0 at home. The Scarlet Knights also own the top home record in Division I, one ahead of New Mexico, which is hosting No. 4 San Diego State on Wednesday.

Baker is Rutgers’ second-leading scorer at 10.0 points and has struggled of late due to the injury. He entered Saturday 4 for 18 in three games since returning from a three-game absence and missed his first six shots before hitting two 3-pointers in the final minutes.

“It definitely helped my confidence to see the ball go through the hoop, especially like that,” Baker said. “So, I’m feeling really good right now.”

The Scarlet Knights will hope to continue those good feelings against an opponent whom they are 1-12 all-time against and are 0-8 against since becoming a member of the Big 10 in the 2014-15 season.

Purdue (11-9, 4-5) began this season No. 23 but is not enjoying one of its better years so far, and its next loss will match its total from last year’s 26-win team. Purdue has already surpassed its loss total from last season so far in league play but is coming off one of its best performances in a conference game.

On Friday, the Boilermakers took control in the first half by holding an 18-point halftime lead and a 45-17 edge early in the second half and cruised to a 70-51 win over Wisconsin.

Isaiah Thompson, who averages 5.4 points per game, scored 14 points while Sasha Stefanovic added 12 as Purdue shot 45 percent and outrebounded Wisconsin 42-16.

Friday’s win occurred after a tough stretch where Purdue lost three of four games to teams that were ranked when it played them (Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland and Illinois). It also occurred after coach Matt Painter criticized their toughness and physicality.

“You have to be ready to play, some things might not go your way, but you have to embrace the physicality of the game,” Painter said. “I thought tonight we did a much better job of that.”

Last season, Purdue cruised to an 89-54 home win over Rutgers on Jan. 15, 2019, when it shot 50 percent and hit 14 3-pointers. In its last visit to Rutgers, Purdue blew an 11-point halftime lead and escaped with a 78-76 win on Feb. 3, 2018.

–Field Level Media

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