The Rutgers men’s basketball team will return to action on Thursday evening to face off against Purdue. Thursday will be the first time the Scarlet Knights (4-4, 0-1) will play an Associated Press (AP) No. 1 team since 2008.
Rutgers enters its second conference game of the season after a disappointing opener to Big Ten play on Friday night. In the loss to Illinois, the Knights were defeated by 35 points in a game where the team gave up the most points to an opponent so far this season.
Compounding the loss is a flurry of bad health news for the program. Head coach Steve Pikiell said on Tuesday that several players are dealing with the flu. Pikiell also said that senior guard Geo Baker, who has missed the last three games due to a hamstring injury, worked out with the trainer on Monday and is still day-to-day.
“Guys just came down with (the flu), not feeling well, and then it trickled to another couple of guys and, today, another couple more,” Pikiell said on Tuesday. “We just got to be really careful moving forward here. A couple of them are young guys — a couple of them are older guys.”
As for the No. 1 Boilermakers (8-0, 1-0), the program enters its first-ever week atop the country off a 77-70 win against Iowa on Friday night. Purdue is led by Preseason All-Big Ten Team member Jaden Ivey, who averages a team-high 15.9 points per game (PPG). Ivey is projected to be a first-round draft pick in next year’s NBA Draft.
Surrounding Ivey are veterans of the Boilermakers program and names that Rutgers fans should know well. Just behind Ivey in scoring is Zach Edey, a 7-foot-4-inch center who averages 15.5 PPG and 7.1 rebounds per game (RPG). Edey is also the team leader in blocks with 11 so far in the year.
Coming off the bench is Trevion Williams, who last season was a First Team All-Big Ten member and Honorable Mention AP All-American. This season, Williams has turned into the team’s lead man off the bench and averages a team-high 8.8 RPG in just 19.3 minutes per game.
Purdue is also the second-best team in the country in three-point percentage and are led by Sasha Stefanovic in that category, who this season is currently shooting 46 percent from long range, second-best in the Big Ten. The Knights are second-to-last in the conference in defending the three-point line.
“They have two of the best big guys in the country too, and they surround them with all good shooters,” Pikiell said. “But obviously, when you have a seven-foot-four guy in the post and an All-American who comes off the bench, you obviously got really good talent … They can beat you from the perimeter, but they beat you around the basket, too, and obviously, they’re well-coached.”
Rutgers is 0-2 at home when facing a No. 1 team, with its last game of that nature coming in 2007. A win on Thursday would be the program’s highest-ever ranked win, with its best so far being in 1981 when the Knights defeated then-No. 2 UCLA.
The game will tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network. The Knights will hold a moment of silence for Clarence Tillman, a member of the team from 1980-83, who passed away on Sunday.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of (Tillman),” Pikiell said. “Clarence was one of the all-time great Scarlet Knights and, of course, a cherished member of the 1983 team. Our program has been built on the contributions that legends like (Tillman) made, and we look to honor him on and off the court.”
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