The Rutgers men's basketball team will face off against Penn State on Wednesday. Both teams are looking for a get-right game, as they have struggled this season and sit near the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
The Scarlet Knights (10-9, 2-6) have lost their last two games, both against ranked opponents Illinois and Purdue. The most recent game was on Sunday against the Boilermakers (19-2, 8-2). Rutgers fought hard through the entire game, but ultimately, No. 2 Purdue finished the job and won 68-60.
The Nittany Lions (9-11, 3-6) have also lost their last two games and, like the Knights, have found little success in Big Ten play.
Over the past 20 years, matchups between Rutgers and Penn State have been dead even. Dating back to 2003, the series between the two is tied 9-9. It is split essentially any way you look at it, as the Knights are 4-4 at home in that period and 5-5 on the road. While Rutgers has won the last three matchups, 2 of those 3 wins were by 3 points or less.
Last season's battle between these two teams was a memorable one, as the Knights pulled off a 59-56 victory at the Nittany Lions' home arena. Rutgers was jolted to victory in that game behind an excellent 16-point performance from sophomore guard Derek Simpson, who helped lead a 19-point comeback as just a freshman.
Many thought the performance was a turning point for the young guard, but with high expectations coming into this season, Simpson has not progressed as much as expected. In his expanded role this season, he has improved his points per game (PPG) by just 2.3, and his field goal percentage has actually dropped by nearly 5 percent.
Simpson is getting more opportunities but has not quite made the most of them. He has shown time and time again, though, that he can show up when the team needs him most. The Knights will hope not to dig themselves into a hole like they did in last year's matchup with Penn State, but if they need someone to lean on in big moments, expect Simpson to try to propel them to victory.
For the Nittany Lions, the backcourt tandem of Kanye Clary and Ace Baldwin Jr. will likely give Rutgers fits. The two lead Penn State in scoring, with Clary averaging 18.4 PPG and Baldwin Jr. averaging 13.2 PPG.
This game will be a stylistic clash. The Knights are the worst scoring offense in the Big Ten while being the No. 3 scoring defense, whereas the Nittany Lions are in the top half of the conference on offense and third-to-last on defense.
Both teams will stick true to their games. Penn State will be looking to get as many shots up as possible, while Rutgers will do anything it can to control the game with its defense.
The contest will tip off at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Jersey Mike's Arena on Livingston campus. It will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and 88.7 WRSU-FM.
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