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After suffering a home loss to then No. 9 Michigan State on Friday night and squandering a chance at a program-defining moment, the Rutgers men’s basketball team had little time to dwell as it traveled to a road contest against Wisconsin on Monday night.
The loss three days prior seemed to have no effect on the Scarlet Knights (5-3, 0-2) early on in the game. If anything, it fueled their fire even more and just like Friday night, Rutgers stunned its ranked Big Ten opponent and took the lead in the opening minutes against the No. 12 Badgers (8-1, 2-0).
The Knights took that lead, which reached as much as 10 points in the first half, into halftime, leading Wisconsin 31-26 and looking in control, shooting a first half season-best 54 percent from the field.
Alas, similar to Friday night’s game as well, Rutgers came out of the gates slow in the second half and the Badgers stormed back, taking the lead for good a little less than 4 minutes in.
Despite letting the deficit climb all the way to 11 points, the Knights tried their best to keep things close, cutting it to as close as a 5-point game. That’s all Rutgers could muster as Wisconsin proved to be too much, ultimately winning 69-64.
After scoring just 26 points in the opening half, the home team exploded for 43 in the second to regain control.
The game was iced with just more than a minute remaining and the Knights down 5 when junior forward Eugene Omoruyi was called for a flagrant foul on forward Ethan Happ, sending Happ to the line for two shots and keeping the ball with the Badgers.
After Happ missed both free throws, Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice nailed his shot from 3 with 56 seconds left in the game, closing the coffin and putting an end to the game.
A jumper by Omoruyi and a 3-point bucket from sophomore guard Geo Baker with 15 seconds left kept Rutgers within striking distance, but the Badgers made both of their free throws at the end of the game to seal the win.
Omoruyi padded his stats with a last-second layup and the Knights lost their second straight game against a conference foe.
Leading Rutgers was Omoruyi who had 17 points and 8 rebounds in 36 minutes of play. He continues to be a force down low as he went 7-14 from the field. But his counterpart in Happ was up to the challenge and after a slow start, dropped a game-high 20 points.
Although, the Knights did manage to contain Happ in the rebound department. Averaging 11.6 rebounds per game coming into the night, Happ could only corral four. In fact, Rutgers out-rebounded Wisconsin 30-27.
It looked like the Knights’ game plan was to feed their bigs near the basket and try to match Wisconsin pound-for-pound as Rutgers scored 34 points in the paint — 9 of which came from junior forward Shaq Carter, a career high.
Carter’s breakout performance also included career highs in rebounds (four) and minutes played (18). The former Eastern Florida State College player transferred to the Banks for his third year and had totaled just 6 points all season.
On the other hand, the Knights shot poorly from deep as the team went 5-16 (31 percent) from 3 with Baker (3-6) and sophomore guard Peter Kiss (2-5) the only ones to see those shots go in. The two finished with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
Ater playing three games in a span of six days, Rutgers will get a much-needed break before traveling to the Bronx to take on Fordham on Saturday, Dec. 8 in New York.
A week later, the Knights will remain on the road as they face in-state rival Seton Hall in Newark, N.J. in the Garden State Hardwood Classic as they look to keep the trophy in Piscataway after defeating the Pirates last year at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.