Rutgers beats No. 10 Indiana for sixth straight time, 63-48

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – With the clock winding down in the final minutes, Rutgers fans didn’t hesitate in letting No. 10 Indiana how they felt about the Hoosiers’ rating.

Chants of “Who’s Your Daddy” and “Overrated” were shouted with glee at the Indiana bench after the team was knocked from the unbeaten ranks.

Make no mistake, Rutgers (6-2, 1-0 Big Ten) owns Indiana (7-1, 0-1) on the basketball floor these days.

Freshman guard Derek Simpson scored 10 straight points in a game-deciding run and Rutgers beat Indiana for the sixth time in a row and ninth time in 10 meetings, 63-48 on Saturday.

“As far as Indiana goes, I feel we just know the focus of this team,” said Rutgers senior Caleb McConnell, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. “It gives us an advantage because we had beaten them five times in a row. We went in trying to execute our game plan and we did it again.”

Simpson scored all 14 of his points in the second half as Rutgers made coach Mike Woodson’s first visit to “The Banks” unpleasant.

“We got to make shots from the perimeter,” said Woodson, whose team shot 30.4% from the field, including 6 of 21 from long range. “But we just got out-toughed tonight. I thought, I mean, from the beginning to the end, I mean, we couldn’t rebound the basketball with him. I thought that was the difference in the ballgame and that was the cushion that they needed.”

Miller Kopp scored a season-high 21 points for Indiana . Star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who faced a packed in defense, was held to 13 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late.

Jackson-Davis said Indiana just didn’t play well.

“I don’t necessarily say that it’s a bad matchup for us because I think defensively we’re still good,” he said. “But at the same time, our offense just wasn’t clicking tonight.”

The win was coach Steve Pikiell’s 14th over a ranked team since taking over a struggling Rutgers’ program in 2016-17. As usual, defense was at the center of its win.

The Hoosiers’ point total was a season low. They were averaging 87.1 points and were coming off a win over North Carolina.

Indiana played poorly in the first half in falling behind 31-24. The Hoosiers opened the final 20 minutes with a 13-4 spurt, taking two-point leads on baskets by Xavier Johnson and Kopp.

McConnell hit a 3-pointer to put Rutgers ahead for good and then Simpson took over, hitting a layup, a jumper, a 3-pointer and a big scoop shot for a 47-37 lead. His final point in the run came when Johnson hit him in the face in the offensive zone and a flagrant foul was eventually called. He made 1 of 2 free throws.

“I still have have much more to do and I am going to keep working and we’re going to keep working as a team,” Simpson said. “It was a fun game, and it really got loud. My ears are still ringing right now.”

MULCAHY RETURNS

Rutgers senior starting guard Paul Mulcahy returned to the lineup after missing four games with a shoulder injury. He came off the bench early in the first half and played almost 24 minutes, scoring six points and handing out four assists.

MISSING

Indiana starting guard Jalen Hood-Schifino did not play because of a back problem. He was averaging 8.7 points. Starting forward Race Thompson, who was averaging 7.3 points, was scoreless on 0 for 4 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Indiana: This was poor performance by the Hoosiers. They are bound to take a tumble.

Rutgers: This was a big win for Rutgers, which was coming off a road loss at Miami. They are 6-0 at home.

UP NEXT

Indiana: Conference home opener against Nebraska on Wednesday.

Rutgers: At No. 25 Ohio State on Thursday.

Purdue back near Big Ten top? Portal makes predictions tough

William Bretzger-The Record/USA TODAY NETWORK
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Purdue Boilermakers are coming off a 29-win season in which they were ranked in the AP top 10 from wire to wire, including the No. 1 spot for one week in December, and drew a No. 3 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Still, they finished one game shy of first place in the conference, lost to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament final and were upset by upstart St. Peter’s in the Sweet 16. That didn’t sit well with coach Matt Painter or anybody else associated with the program.

“We thought we had a team that could do more damage than it did. As a coach, you take sole responsibility for that,” Painter said in Minneapolis at Target Center, where the conference took its basketball media days this year. “I thought we should have won our league. I thought we should have won our tournament. I thought we should have gotten to the Final Four. We didn’t.”

While the Boilermakers have lost first team All-Big Ten guard Jaden Ivey and stalwarts Trevion Williams and Sasha Stefanovic, they’ve still got a team headlined by the 7-foot-4 Zach Edey – one of three unanimous picks for the 11-player preseason all-conference team – that ought to be able to contend for the conference title again.

These days, with the transfer portal doing heavy business, picking the favorites is even more of an inexact science. The Boilermakers were pegged for fifth in the Big Ten preseason media poll.

“You have some people that are being picked in the top half, and 70 to 80% of their guys didn’t play for them last year. Normally when that’s the case, they don’t get picked in the top half,” Painter said. “You’ve got a good chunk of some of these guys that have had really good careers so far so it’s easier to gauge, easier to say this guy averaged 16 points in another high major conference, he’s going to be successful here. Having that experience of success together is still important.”

FRESH START

Kevin Willard took over the Maryland program after 12 seasons at Seton Hall. A longtime resident of New York and New Jersey, Willard revealed some of the discoveries he’s made since moving down the Atlantic coast. The first thing to stand out to him was the quality of recruits playing in the Terrapins’ backyard – including the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

“High school basketball, AAU basketball in the DMV is by far second to none,” Willard said. “It’s kind of cool being there because you get first dibs on a lot of kids that obviously we couldn’t get before.”

The first player Willard signed upon arriving in College Park was 6-foot-6 swingman Noah Batchelor, a native of Frederick, Maryland, who played last year at the IMG Academy in Florida. He also picked up a graduate transfer in guard Jahmir Young, a product of DeMatha Catholic High School in the D.C. suburbs who averaged 16.7 points per game over three seasons at Charlotte.

But Willard knows there’s no such thing as building a fence around the state.

“You’re never going to keep all your local kids home,” Willard said. “Fan bases love saying that. If you keep everyone home, then you’re not going to be able to play everybody and everyone is going to get mad at you anyways.”

His steepest learning curve might actually be in the dining room.

“You’ve got to know how to eat crab cakes. I’m learning how to crack crabs and eat crabs. It’s a new thing for me. Very hard,” Willard said with a laugh. “You’ve got to split the middle, take the legs off, go through the whole process.”

THREE-PEAT IN JERSEY?

Rutgers is aiming for a third straight NCAA Tournament berth, a streak the program has never before accomplished. Coach Steve Pikiell’s returning players accounted for 64% of the team’s minutes played last season. Key among those players is fifth-year guard Caleb McConnell, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

There’s also a significant homecourt advantage the Scarlet Knights have developed in recent years at the 8,000-seat building now known as Jersey Mike’s Arena, enough to warrant attention in a conference with some of the country’s most imposing gyms for visiting teams.

When Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson were mulling over the most raucous road-game scenes, they mentioned usual suspects Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. But also:

“Rutgers is pretty lit,” Thompson said.

“Yeah, Rutgers is awesome,” Jackson-Davis said.

Pikiell praised the fan base for the environment.

“I think they really like our guys and respect how they play,” Pikiell said. “They play with a little Jersey grit and excitement and enthusiasm.”

DAD JOKES

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery again has two of his sons on the roster, with sixth-year forward Connor McCaffery back for one more ride in a reserve role and fourth-year forward Patrick McCaffery returning to the starting lineup.

There are downsides to playing for dad, of course. Connor told on himself for feeling “a little bit more comfortable talking back” to the coach than anyone else in authority. Patrick cited the pressure that comes from the family name and the unfounded assumptions of nepotism around status on the team.

The good outweighs the bad, though, like being part of a true family environment. Then there’s the credibility that Connor has built up through so much time in the program.

“We think alike,” Connor said. “My suggestions and points a lot of times are on the same page. He gives me the freedom to audible plays and call plays.”

Washington looking to build off Stringer success at Rutgers

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 06 Women's Penn State at Rutgers
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Coquese Washington isn’t looking to replace C. Vivian Stringer as the women’s basketball coach at Rutgers. That’s an impossible task.

Stringer, a Hall of Famer, won more than 1,000 games in 50 years and went to the Final Four four times with three different teams – Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers.

The 51-year-old Washington admitted as much Tuesday after being introduced as the Scarlet Knights’ third full-time women’s head coach in nearly 40 years. A three-time Big Ten Conference coach of the year during a 12-year stint at Penn State, Washington said Stringer inspired her on and off the court. Washington’s goal is to build off the retired 74-year-old’s accomplishments and get Rutgers back to the NCAA Tournament as soon as possible.

“What’s going to be consistent is that determination to be excellent, the determination to give to your players and the importance of building those relationships,” Washington told a small crowd at Jersey Mike’s Arena.

Washington faces a major challenge next season after getting the job late, roughly three weeks after Stringer retired. She takes over a team that went 11-20 overall and 3-14 in the Big Ten under Tim Eatman this past season. He ran the team last season after Stringer decided not to coach because of concerns over COVID-19.

For now, the Rutgers roster is uncertain because of the transfer portal. There are three players returning, two incoming freshmen, four others in the portal, and a transfer who has not finalized her commitment.

Athletic director Pat Hobbs said he understands the problem and promised to be patient. He also said Washington, who was the associate head coach at Nortre Dame for the past two seasons, aced the virtual interview. She was the only candidate brought on campus for a second interview.

Hobbs had kept track of prospective coaches during the season, but the search never started until Stringer announced her retirement.

A former WNBA player and champion, Washington got a six-year contract that guarantees total compensation of $4.625 million with additional performance incentives.

The news conference was not only attended by some Rutgers women’s fans. Three Notre Dame players, who live locally, were also there: Dara Mabry, Natalijia Marshall and Olivia Miles.

“She’s so much more than a coach,” Mabry said. “She’s a lawyer. She’s really, really smart, very knowledgeable. A role model, especially for me. I know she’s going to be a role model to these girls. They’re really, really lucky to have her.”

Mabry said Washington even surprised Irish players at times on the court while working with them.

“Every now and then in practice, she would go fast and we would be like, `Whoa,”‘ Mabry said. “We weren’t expecting her to, like, still be able to move like that.”

Washington is returning to the head coaching ranks for the first time since 2018-19, her final season at Penn State. The stint produced three Big Ten titles and three coach of the year honors.

It also ended with only one winning season in the past five. It was something she attributed partially to outside issues, recruiting problems following the conviction of former Nittany Lions’ assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2012 for sexual abuse.

After spending a year as associate head coach under Sherri Coale at Oklahoma, Washington returned to her alma mater and worked two seasons at Notre Dame under Niele Ivey.

“I’ve been able to learn and grow a lot,” said Washington, who also served as president of the WNBA Players Association before getting back into coaching. “I wasn’t in a rush to be a head coach again, and it had to be the right opportunity. And this was that, this was that right opportunity.”

Still, replacing Stringer promises to be a challenge.

“I just want to be somebody that she will look and I say: `You know, you did a good job.’ “

No. 13 Wisconsin edges Rutgers 66-61, takes Big Ten lead

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – While they weren’t the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten Conference, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said that’s been his team’s goal since the start of the season.

Win the next game, and the No. 13 Badgers (23-5, 14-4) will have the regular-season title.

“This group has had a Big Ten championship in their sights since we started in the offseason,” Gard said Saturday night after Wisconsin took over first place with a hard-fought 66-61 road win over Rutgers. “This is a group that’s stayed the course and continued to take it one day at a time.”

As usual, Johnny Davis led the way, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second half. He had a lot of help as Brad Davison added 14 points, Chucky Hepburn had 13 and Tyler Wahl had 11 in helping the Badgers win their fourth straight game and improve to 14-1 in games decided by six points or less.

Wisconsin can win the title on Tuesday when it plays host to No. 4 Purdue, which lost to Michigan State. The Badgers won the earlier meeting.

“You know, we got a big win Tuesday,” Davis said. “Obviously, Purdue is a really good team and we know we’re playing for that game.”

Geo Baker had 16 of his 19 points in the second half to lead Rutgers (16-12, 10-8), but missed a game-tying 3-point attempt with four seconds to play.

Ron Harper Jr. added 15 points for the Scarlet Knights, who have now lost three in a row after a four-game winning streak – all against ranked teams.

“The way we played in the second half was the way we played in beating four ranked teams in a row,” Harper said. “The way we played in the first half was the way we played in losing the last three games.”

Trailing by 11 at the half, Rutgers rallied in the final 20 minutes and took its first lead at 51-50 on a foul-line jumper by Baker. The lead changed hands before Davis, who was frustrated by non-calls most of the game, drove the lane for a layup with 5:39 to play for a 56-55 edge. Hepburn would add a 3-pointer less than a minute later and Wisconsin led 59-55.

“I figured I would get a call sooner or later,” Davis said, who finished 6 of 19 from the field. “You know, they gave me a few in the second half, but it was really frustrating because Caleb McConnell was a really good defender.”

A layup by Wahl after a free throw by Rutgers’ Cliff Omoruyi made it 61-56 but Rutgers never got closer than 63-61 after Harper hit a 3-pointer with 28 second to play. A free throw by Wahl five seconds later gave Rutgers on last shot but Baker missed it.

Baker was not made available to the media after the game, but teammates noted he was the reason the game was close at the end.

Wisconsin built a 33-23 halftime lead and it was Davison and Hepburn who carried the load. Davison hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points, while Hepburn had 10. The Scarlet Knights made only nine baskets in first 20 minutes and did not make a 3-pointer. They also missed four free throws, with two at the front end of a one-and-one opportunity.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: Will likely get a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Rutgers: Needs a win or two next week to assure itself a second straight NCAA trip.

“This group has overcome adversity,” Harper said. “You know, they told us our season was dead so many times now. We just keep fighting and just keep to keep pushing and keep fighting through adversity. And there’s no doubt that this team can get it done.”

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: Hosts No. 4 Purdue on Tuesday.

Rutgers: At Indiana on Wednesday.

Clark nets 32, No. 21 Iowa women hold off Rutgers 87-78

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Caitlin Clark scored 16 of her 32 points in the fourth quarter and No. 21 Iowa held off Rutgers 87-78 on Thursday night.

The Hawkeyes had a 15-point lead late in the second quarter, were up 39-27 at the half and took a 62-54 lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t put away the Scarlet Knights

Monika Czinano scored Iowa’s first four points in the final period but a jumper by Shug Dickson pulled Rutgers within 66-63. Clark scored the next 12 Iowa points but Dickson’s second-straight jumper with a minute left made it 81-78.

Clark found McKenna Warnock inside to make it 83-78 with 37.4 seconds to play. Rutgers then missed three shots on its next possession, including a block by Warnock. Clark made two free throws with 10.4 to go, stole the ball and made two more from the line.

Czinano finished with 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting and Warnock hit five 3-pointers and scored 19 points for the Hawkeyes (19-7, 13-4 Big Ten Conference), who wrapped up a double bye as a top-four seed for the league tournament next week. They face No. 6 Michigan to close the regular season on Sunday for a chance to earn the league title for the first time since 2008.

Clark finished with nine rebounds and nine assists in her 9th game scoring 30 points this season..

Dickson had 19 points for Rutgers (9-19, 2-14), Lasha Petree and Jailyn Mason both had 13 points and Osh Brown had 12 with nine rebounds.

Iowa shot 60%, made nine 3-pointers and 14 of 17 from the foul line. But the Hawkeyes were outrebounded 35-28 and had 17 turnovers, eight by Clark.

Rutgers shot 45%, matching Iowa’s 32 field goals but had 18 more shots because of 17 offensive rebounds.

Despite 2 straight losses, Rutgers ready for NCAA run

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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PISCATAWAY, N.J.- After 31 years of coaching, Steve Pikiell is looking forward to the time when he can roll a basketball onto the court, sit back and watch Rutgers win game after game.

As soon as the words came out his mouth Thursday, the 54-year-old Scarlet Knights coach started laughing. It was almost as if he remembered his team plays in the Big Ten Conference.

The league is stacked with some of the best teams in Division I. Five Big Ten teams are currently ranked in the AP Top 25, and Michigan State and Rutgers (16-11, 10-7) nearly got enough votes to be part of the poll this past week. Nobody wins them all.

Rutgers is at the end of a three-week buzz-saw schedule that has featured six of seven games against ranked teams.

What’s remarkable is the Scarlet Knights have used the run to thrust themselves into the NCAA Tournament picture. They won four straight over ranked opponents before losing at now-No. 4 Purdue on Sunday and at Michigan on Wednesday. Up next is No. 13 Wisconsin Saturday at home.

“I don’t know in the history of college basketball if anyone has played six ranked teams in seven games,” Pikiell said Thursday. “I mean, these teams aren’t just ranked. They’re in the top 15. It’s not just the Top 25. It’s the top 15.”

Though the recent run has been eye-opening, many expected good things from the Scarlet Knights after they went 16-11 last season and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. Tenth-seeded Rutgers knocked off No. 7 seed Clemson in the first round and had a nine-point lead over No. 2 seed Houston before falling 63-60 in the second round. The Cougars ended up reaching the Final Four.

Guard Geo Baker and forward Ron Harper Jr. returned this season, but the Scarlet Knights still struggled early. Playing without Baker for six games, they lost to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass and were pushed by others.

“Early in the year, we lost one-possession games,” Pikiell said. “That’s what we were going through. We thought we were pretty good but we had to prove it again this year. They thought last year was just going to happen again and we didn’t play as well as you need to.”

The turnaround started this month, following an overtime loss on the road to Northwestern. It was Rutgers’ third loss in four games, with the only win a two-point decision over last-place Nebraska.

The Scatlet Knights weren’t even on the NCAA bubble at that point.

What followed was four straight wins at home over No. 13 Michigan State, No. 16 Ohio State, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 12 Illinois, a team that had beaten the Scarlet Knights by 35 points earlier in the season.

Those rankings have changed, but it made Rutgers the first Division I team with wins in four consecutive games coming over ranked foes since Michigan State in 2019-20. It also gave the Scatlet Knights a 5-2 record against ranked opponents this season, including a win over then-No. 1 Purdue after the Boilermakers reached the top spot for the first time.

The run has taken a toll. Rutgers was beaten by No. 5 Purdue Sunday and lost 71-62 to Michigan on Wednesday with the Scarlet Knights out of gas and the Wolverines playing with added incentive after coach Juwan Howard’s suspension.

“I said some teams get better and some teams get worse,” Pikiell said. “I’m thankful that these guys decided to get better. We can play anybody. Yeah, but in our league too, we can lose to anybody when you’re not right.”

Besides Harper (15.7 points) and Baker (11.9), Rutgers is deep. Paul Mulcahy has averaged 17 points recently and athletic big man Cliff Omoruyi has gotten a lot better, averaging 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. Caleb McConnell is the best defensive player in the league, averaging a conference-high 2.3 steals.

For now, Pikiell is focused on facing Wisconsin again on a short turnaround. His team got back from Michigan at 1 a.m. Thursday and three of his players had 8 a.m. classes.

“I’ve had to fight from day one,” Pikiell said. “That’s all I know, and you’re going to have some great wins. You can have some tough losses. You have to keep moving, keep getting better and keep believing in your guys.”