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As the fall semester draws to a close, the Rutgers men’s basketball team is still in full swing, its latest matchup being a road game against Fordham on Saturday inside the Rose Hill Gymnasium at 2:30 p.m.
“Tough place to play, first and foremost,” said head coach Steve Pikiell on playing inside the oldest gym used by an NCAA Division I basketball team. "It’s unique, you don’t have many of those facilities around anymore — loud, old and traditional, and it makes for a unique setting for a basketball game.”
It’s with disappointment that the Scarlet Knights (5-3, 0-2) will travel to the Bronx, N.Y. as they're coming off a 69-64 loss to No. 12 Wisconsin — a game Rutgers led at the half.
But the Knights will be well-rested, as they've had four days off since their last game to prepare both mentally and physically for the Rams.
“Road games are always tough,” said sophomore guard Geo Baker. “We always talk about ‘it’s just us,' so I think we have to come more together as a team.”
Earlier in the week against Wisconsin, Rutgers came just 2 to 3 plays away from securing the upset win. Two days before that, the Knights gave then-No. 9 Michigan State a good scare inside the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) as well.
Despite the close games, Rutgers isn’t satisfied with simply keeping things close — it came to win this season.
“I wouldn’t really say there’s any happiness, which I think is a good thing,” Baker said. “I think last year, the way our team was I think we would’ve been happy with playing these teams down to the wire, but this year I think there’s a different vibe.”
This year, the Knights have played well, and it’s due to their newcomers, not in spite of it. One of these newcomers isn’t a freshman, but this is his first year on the Banks.
Junior forward Shaq Carter subbed into the Wisconsin game and immediately made an impact. He left his mark with a career high in points (9), rebounds (four) and minutes (18).
“It feels pretty good,” Carter said on his continued improvement. “I’m just all for the team, and coach needed me to come in and bring a lot of energy, and that’s what I did. I'm looking forward to keep bringing the energy on the court and on the bench as well.”
The Eastern Florida State College transfer student is looking forward to not only showing why he deserves a spot on the team, but also getting better every day.
Even though Rutgers didn’t do enough for the win in its past two games, it’s ready to get back on the court and get back in the win column against cross-state non-conference foe Fordham.
“We just have great depth, we have great teamwork,” Baker said. “I think guys like that are ready to step up just because they trust everything around them, we trust them, they trust us so I think that goes a long way.”
The Knights have played the Rams in the past two seasons, but this will be the first time they travel to the Rose Hill Gymnasium and play Fordham on its home court — the past two games have either been played at the RAC or at Madison Square Garden.
The experience should be special, too, as Rutgers will be playing inside living history. The Rose Hill Gymnasium was built in 1925 and holds 3,200 people.
“Whenever you play on the road, the road brings a whole new set of obstacles,” Pikiell said. “You have to go and you have to play well, you have to fight the crowd and the referees and the other team.”
If the Knights can get contributions from everybody on the team, as they have so far this season, they should have no problem getting back on the right track. But first, they have to get through the Rams on Saturday.
“I think what you’ve seen is everyone who has checked into a game can help us, so I like our depth,” Pikiell said.
One thing is for sure for this Rutgers team: it’s on the rise, and it has the right guy leading the charge.
“I think we’re good, but I think we’re getting better which is the most important thing,” Baker said. “I think we’re really young so we’re just growing every single game.”
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.