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Despite taking a break from conference play, the Rutgers basketball team extended its losing streak to three games on Saturday, as the team suffered a hard loss to Fordham on the road.
The Scarlet Knights (5-4, 0-2) just had a rough day overall, struggling to hit shots and contain the Rams’ (7-2) offense — particularly 5-foot-10-inch guard Nick Honor, who exploded for a season-high 30 points to lead his team to a 78-70 victory in the Bronx.
“They were the tougher team today,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “When you go on the road and you’re not the tougher team, you’re probably not going to win.”
The team was hosted at the Rose Hill Gymnasium, the oldest gym being used by a Division I basketball program and one that hasn’t seen a Big Ten team compete in it since 1935.
Junior forward Eugene Omoruyi led the way for Rutgers again in this one, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Sophomore guard Geo Baker added 14 points and six assists, but struggled shooting the ball again — he shot less than 40 percent from the field for the third game in a row.
“I think every loss is disappointing,” Baker said. “I feel like we were in every game we’ve played so far. Coming in here, we really wanted to get a win, get back on the winning track, but we came up short.”
Overall, the Knights actually put the ball in the hole more times than Fordham did (26-25), but the 3-point shot differential is what tells the final story of the game. The Rams hit 10 3-pointers on 22 attempts and shot 60 percent from beyond the arc in the second half (6-10).
True freshman guard Montez Mathis made his first career start versus Fordham after Pikiell made changes to his starting lineup for the first time this season. With the Rams starting a smaller lineup, Mathis started in place of 6-foot-10-inch junior forward Issa Thiam and finished with 8 points, two rebounds and a steal.
Both sides were in a tight battle for the majority of the first half and reached approximately the 5-minutes-remaining mark tied at 19. But Rutgers broke out for an 8-0 run and eventually took a 10-point lead before Fordham cut it to a 5-point game going into halftime.
Even though the Knights put up more points in the second half, it seemed like the final 20 minutes of play was all Rams, who doubled their points and outscored Rutgers by 13.
Pikiell needed to take a timeout within the first 40 seconds of the half after Fordham scored back-to-back baskets to shrink the lead to just 1 point.
“I didn’t like our toughness in the first half, I didn’t like our toughness in the second half,” Pikiell said. “I think they beat us to every 50-50 ball.”
Things were relatively quiet for the next few minutes before the Rams broke out to a 7-point lead — its largest of the game at that point — with 13:29 left to play. But the Knights rallied back over the next 7 minutes off the play of Thiam (5 straight points) to take a 2-point lead with less than 7 minutes to play — but that too wouldn’t last long.
Honor brought Fordham back in front with consecutive 3-pointers that led to a 10-0 run for the home team that gave it a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.
“It’s been a constant theme, I think the last four games the other team has come out in the second half, and we really haven’t, so that’s just something we need to change as a team,” Baker said after the game.
Despite getting close in the waning minutes of play, the Rams' lead was just too large to come back from.
Now losers of three games in a row, Rutgers will look to get back in the win column next Saturday when it heads on the road for the third straight game to face Seton Hall.
“We have to play better and that’s on me,” Pikiell said.
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.