Basketball vs. Michigan Photo No. 9

Nebraska’s C.J. Wilcher (0) shoots the ball during the game against Michigan at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

One step forward, two steps back.

Even though Nebraska men’s basketball suffered defeats in games against No. 13 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State over the last week, both games felt like progress for Nebraska. The Huskers competed for large stretches, enjoyed the lead in both contests and even could’ve come away with a victory over the Buckeyes if not for a late-game implosion.

Saturday’s game against Rutgers was a different story. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s called the RAC or Jersey Mike’s arena, winning against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on their home floor is a difficult task. The Scarlet Knights were 36-6 in the last two-plus seasons at home. On Saturday, that record grew to a 37th win as Rutgers topped Nebraska 93-65.

Rutgers senior forward Ron Harper Jr. was unstoppable, scoring 29 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Additionally, the Husker trend of letting a traditionally quiet opposing player score well above average continued with Rutgers sophomore forward Dean Reiber pouring in 10 points off the bench.

He wasn’t the only one. Sophomore forward Aundre Hyatt gave Rutgers a 17-16 lead off a 3-pointer, marking the last time the lead would switch hands as Hyatt finished with 13 for the game. Hyatt averaged 5.5 points per game prior to Saturday while Reiber scored 1.1.

The early story was told in the paint. The first 12 points between each team were in the paint before freshman guard Bryce McGowens broke the 6-6 tie with a wide open 3-pointer. A few plays later, senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. stole the basketball and found junior forward Lat Mayen for a two handed jam to extend Nebraska’s scoring run to 7-0.

When junior forward Derrick Walker picked up two quick fouls, it fell to freshman forward Eduardo Andre to step up for the Huskers. In seven first-half minutes, Andre provided four points and two rebounds. But despite his best efforts, Nebraska surrendered the lead with 10:42 to play on consecutive Rutgers 3-pointers.

Rutgers’ 20-16 advantage grew thanks to a 15-2 scoring stretch over 4:07 of game action to give the Scarlet Knights a 25-16 lead with 8:20 to play. A 6-0 Nebraska run drew the Huskers closer,  but three straight turnovers and other miscues fueled a second 9-0 Rutgers run as the Scarlet Knights now led 36-24. 

A dunk by Reiber put an exclamation point on the half for the Scarlet Knights. The Rutgers bench, led by the contributions of Reiber and Hyatt, outscored Nebraska’s 17-9 in the first half and the Scarlet Knights led 44-31 following the opening stanza. 

The Husker’s 3-point struggles continued Saturday. Nebraska shot 2-of-10 in the first half against Rutgers while the Scarlet Knights also struggled from range, shooting 2-of-8. The Scarlet Knights, however, dominated at the free-throw line and in the paint. Rutgers was 10-of-11 as a team at the line in the first half and outscored the Huskers in the paint 28-20.

After a first half in which McGowens had 11 points for Nebraska and no other Husker had more than four, Nebraska went back to Walker. He had two buckets early in the period but it wasn’t enough. Harper continued his dominance, splashing a left wing 3-pointer to give Rutgers a 54-37 lead.

On the next possession, Harper connected from long range once more, bringing him to 20 points on the day. At the under-12 media timeout, Rutgers led 67-48 as shifty footwork by Rutgers junior guard Paul Mulcahy turned into back-to-back baskets. He became the third Scarlet Knight to enter double figures compared to just one for Nebraska at the time. 

That lead grew from 19 points to 27 in the final four minutes. Five Scarlet Knights reached double figures. Once Rutgers claimed the lead for the second time in the first half, it was total dominance. It simply wasn’t competitive.

McGowens led the Huskers in scoring with 17 points and the only other Nebraska players who joined him in double figures were Walker with 12 and freshman guard CJ Wilcher with 11. The Huskers did manage to shoot 49% from the field but surrendered 25 points off turnovers, were outrebounded by 16 including yielding nine offensive rebounds and were outscored by 10 in both the paint and bench scoring.

So far this season, Nebraska allows opponents to sink 45% of their shots from 3-point range. Saturday, Rutgers hit 10-of-18 attempts from long range for  a 55% conversion rate. 

As a team, Rutgers shot 58% from the field. In the second half, the Scarlet Knights shot 8-of-10 from downtown. The loss for Nebraska is its third by 25 or more points and apart from a late made basket by Andre it would have been the Huskers third 30 point defeat. 

The Huskers now sit at 6-10 overall and 0-5 in Big Ten play. There are a myriad of questions and a massive shortage of answers for a team that has unfathomably underperformed. Nebraska has not beat a Power Six opponent this year. The Huskers are now 1-26 in road games under head coach Fred Hoiberg and return home to face a red hot Illinois team Tuesday.