Every Rutgers basketball season comes with a murderer’s row of games in conference play. The Scarlet Knights are now passed the toughest stretch after consecutive losses to SMU, Louisville and Memphis.
Losing by an average of 21.6 points to the three ranked teams, Rutgers (10-17, 4-10) welcomed a six-day repose between games to regroup.
“That is a heck of a window,” said Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan on the three games. “I thought we closed it out solidly with a great effort and a chance to win here against Memphis, who clobbered us [on the road]. We had to have some type of redemption.”
Rutgers redeemed itself against Memphis, but not enough to make it count in the win column. Rutgers held Memphis to 37 fewer points in the rematch, and put up its best defensive effort since the start of conference play.
The 64 points scored by Memphis is the lowest scoring output for any Rutgers opponent this season. It is the third fewest points scored by the 22nd ranked Tigers this season.
“The first thing I asked was, ‘Do we belong?’ That was the first thing I asked in pre-game, ‘Do we belong?’ Yes we belong if we give this, if you do this and you do this and we did,” Jordan said. “We just didn’t get that little mini run, that dagger that just would get us over the hump.”
The Scarlet Knights have two more days to refocus before traveling to Orlando, Fla., for a winnable clash with UCF. Rutgers beat the struggling Knights 85-75 at the RAC, and need more wins for any chance at a bye in Memphis.
“I thought we closed out pretty good,” Jordan said. “We have to take it to UCF and then bring it back home to USF. The carrot is still sixth place. Can we do it? I think we need help, but we have to help ourselves first.”
Rutgers sites one game behind Houston in the standings for sixth place, and holds the final-score tie-breaker over the Cougars.
UCF and USF are next for Rutgers, which could be the favorite in both. The season ends, however, with a trip to Connecticut and Senior Night against Cincinnati. Both teams handled Rutgers easily the first time.
“I’ve thrown a lot at them,” Jordan said. “Even though we don’t like our record, our kids seem to have fun playing and are trying to do things right, and that’s what I like. That was the first point of emphasis, to allow our kids to play and enjoy basketball.”