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Field Level Media - Professional sports content solutions | FLM

Feb 21, 2024 2:26 am

Rutgers faces tall order in visit to No. 3 Purdue

Zach Edey

Beating No. 3 Purdue requires following a straightforward formula, but only three teams have been able to pull it off this season.

None of those teams who succeeded were playing on Purdue’s home court, which is the challenge Rutgers faces on Thursday night when it makes the trip to West Lafayette, Ind., to face the Big Ten Conference leader.

Making things worse for the Scarlet Knights is their timing. They are Purdue’s first opponent after the Boilermakers’ stunning 73-69 defeat at Ohio State on Sunday. The upset came four days after the Buckeyes, who had lost nine of their past 11 games, fired coach Chris Holtmann.

The loss to Ohio State followed the template for the Boilermakers’ other defeats this season: turnover trouble and an opponent shooting a good percentage. Purdue (23-3, 12-3 Big Ten) committed 14 turnovers, including six by likely two-time national Player of the Year Zach Edey, and Ohio State canned 48.3 percent of its field-goal attempts.

Those things more than canceled out the Boilermakers’ 36-23 rebounding advantage.

“We just need to take care of the ball,” Edey said. “We outrebounded them. We got more possessions that way, but we can’t let them get on transition. We have to play on a half-court game. It’s tough to win the game when a team scores 22 points (off turnovers).”

On paper, Rutgers (14-11, 6-8) might be equipped to cause Purdue some problems with its defense. While Minnesota nicked Rutgers up for an 81-70 win on Sunday in Minneapolis, the Scarlet Knights rank second in adjusted defensive efficiency per kenpom.com at 90.8 points per 100 possessions and were 21st in the nation through Monday in turnover margin (plus-3.6 per game).

When they hosted Purdue on Jan. 28, the Scarlet Knights whittled a 14-point, second-half deficit down to two on two occasions in the last eight-plus minutes before losing 68-60. Rutgers’ ability to force turnovers (15) and grab offensive rebounds (15) led to 19 more field-goal attempts than the Boilermakers managed.

The problem was what the Scarlet Knights didn’t do with those extra shots. They finished only 24 of 64 (37.5 percent) from the field and 4 of 16 from 3-point range. Combined with Edey collecting 26 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, that was enough to doom Rutgers.

But Scarlet Knights coach Steve Pikiell hasn’t given up hope that his team can make a push in March, even though the metrics suggest they are presently an NIT kind of squad.

“You will be up sometimes, you will be down sometimes,” he said. “This group is really practicing the right way. You never know what obstacle you will face. It just takes everybody to stay alive, and I appreciate it.”

Iowa State transfer Jeremiah Williams has been the Scarlet Knights’ leading scorer since making his season debut five games ago, averaging 13.2 points per game to go along with 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He sat out the first 20 games for violating the NCAA’s policy on gambling.

Clifford Omoruyi, who amassed 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks at Minnesota, tallies 11.2 ppg and nine rebounds per contest.

Besides Edey’s 23.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, Purdue also gets double-figure scoring from Lance Jones (12.8 ppg), Braden Smith (12.8) and Fletcher Loyer (10.5). Through Monday’s games, the Boilermakers ranked 10th in Division I with an average of 84.4 points per game and were third in 3-point percentage at 40.1 percent.

–Field Level Media

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