STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Rutgers players have vowed to avoid another last place finish in the Big Ten. They took another step toward that goal by holding off a team that’s headed in the opposite direction.
Geo Baker scored 20 points and the Scarlet Knights (10-9, 3-6 Big Ten) beat Penn State 64-60 on Saturday to put a three-game cushion between themselves and the conference cellar, where they’ve finished every season since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
“This is the toughest league in the country, especially on the road,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We were a couple of points better.”
That was the case for much of the second half when Rutgers controlled the latter portion of the game, taking the lead for good on a 3-pointer from Baker that made it 57-53 with 3:26 to play.
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The Nittany Lions (7-13, 0-9) pulled within a point less than two minutes later on a layup from Mike Watkins but wouldn’t get any closer as the Scarlet Knights shot 6 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Eugene Omoruyi and Montez Mathis chipped in 11 points apiece, and Shaq Carter pulled down a team-best seven rebounds for the Scarlet Knights, who won their second in a row.
“They jumped on us early and we kind of settled down after a timeout and played some good basketball,” Pikiell said.
Lamar Stevens scored 21 points while Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton each added 11 for the Nittany Lions, who lost their seventh in a row. Bolton missed a potential tying 3-pointer with less than a second left.
Penn State had opportunities early. The Nittany Lions led midway through the first half and opened the second half with a 7-2 run after trailing 30-26 at halftime.
“They go up and we fight back,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “We get it to one point and I just love the team’s grit. We’re this close to breaking through. I’m more optimistic walking out of this arena than I was a week ago.”
Baker potted seven of his points in the final 4:29 where he was 4-for-6 shooting from the line. He added three assists, three steals and a pair of rebounds.
“(Baker) made some big plays for us … made four free throws down the stretch,” Pikiell said. “When he plays that way, it helps us a great deal and gives our younger guys confidence.”
Less than 10 months from a convincing NIT championship win, the Nittany Lions didn’t expect to be winless in the conference and looking up at everyone else. Disappointment was noticeable as the Nittany Lions silently shuffled into their locker room.
“I hope and pray that as athletes and competitors, that even though you’re in this situation, you want to feel that winning feeling again,” Chambers said. “I can’t wait to get to work tomorrow morning. I can’t wait to watch this film tonight. I’m fired up.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights won just their second road game against a Big Ten team since joining the conference in 2014. They’re 2-38 overall with both wins inside the Bryce Jordan Center.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are off to their first 0-9 start in conference play since 2012-13 when they lost 14 Big Ten games in a row.
Rutgers hosts Indiana on Wednesday.
Penn State hosts Purdue on Thursday.
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