In a game dominated by scoring droughts and poor shooting, No. 25 Rutgers (12-7, 8-7 Big Ten) ultimately prevailed to hand Northwestern (6-12, 3-11) its eleventh straight loss.
The ‘Cats did their best to put up a fight, but their scoring woes got the best of them as they shot just 33% from the field as a team.
After a slow start, Rutgers gained traction and ended up shooting 41% from the field despite only hitting 21% of their shots from behind the arc. The Scarlet Knights’ inside advantage won the day, as they grabbed 43 rebounds to NU’s 31 and scored 30 points in the paint to NU’s 22.
Anthony Gaines and Chase Audige each scored 11 points for Northwestern while four RU players poured in double figures. Jacob Young scored a game-high 15 with Ron Harper Jr. adding 14.
NU actually started the game rejuvenated after its heartbreaking double overtime loss to Indiana on Wednesday. The Wildcats were helped out by Rutgers’ poor offensive start, which included a plethora of turnovers and missed shots.
A quick 7-2 advantage forced Rutgers to call timeout just three minutes in, and a Pete Nance jumper from a behind-the-back dish from Miller Kopp put the Wildcats up 14-4.
Then Rutgers began to settle in, nailing its next four shots to cut the Northwestern lead to two at the under-12 timeout as the ‘Cats went scoreless for 3:28. The Wildcats said goodbye to their final lead at 19-18 with 7:38 left before halftime.
A Gaines and-one before the under-eight timeout started a streak of the two teams trading baskets with Rutgers limiting its mistakes and flexing its strength in the paint. The Scarlet Knights out-rebounded NU by six in the first half, scored 10 more points in the paint and hit 15 of 19 two-point attempts.
Myles Johnson led the way for Steve Pikiell’s squad, scoring 12 points in the first 20 minutes on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting.
Gaines, known primarily for his defense, led NU with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting and three rebounds in the opening half. He hit two of five triples while the sharpshooter Kopp connected on just one of five deep tries despite getting several good looks.
Rutgers ended the first half on a 10-0 run to take a 37-27 lead into the locker room and closed on an extended 33-13 run after the early deficit.
Both teams started their second halves comparably slow, each experiencing a scoring drought of over two minutes before the first media timeout. After an impressive chase down block from Audige on a layup that would’ve given Rutgers a 16-point lead, NU mounted an 11-0 run to make it a three-point game as the Scarlet Knights went scoreless for an incredible 8:02.
When Northwestern had a chance to rally, Rutgers pulled away as the ‘Cats offense then stalled and didn’t hit a field goal for 4:57. The Scarlet Knights imposed their will after their scoreless streak and gained an eight-point lead with eight minutes left to play.
After Kopp hit a jumper to make it 48-42, Caleb McConnell canned a huge triple to re-up Rutgers’ advantage to nine. RU made just 4 of 19 three-point attempts on the evening, but they made timely ones down the stretch. Geo Baker hit a step back three with under six minutes left that made an NU charge even tougher.
An Audige three with just under four minutes left kept things within arm’s length, but Rutgers never looked threatened. NU had a chance to cut things to five, but Young stole a bad pass from Audige and threw down fast-break dunk to make it 58-49 to effectively end any hopes of a comeback.
The Wildcats face another tough task Tuesday at 8 p.m. when they travel to Champaign to take on No. 6 Illinois.