MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Rutgers is seeking back-to-back Big East road wins for the first time ever when the Scarlet Knights invade Morgantown for a Saturday afternoon game at the WVU Coliseum.
Rutgers (10-7, 2-2) is coming off its best road win in years in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, clobbering the once-ranked Panthers 62-39.
“Mike (Rice) has done a great job with them,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “They really compete. They do a great job of getting on the help line defensively and they run good stuff.”
Freshman guard Eli Carter scored 14 points and junior forward Dane Miller contributed 11 points and 12 rebounds as Rutgers limited Pitt to just 21.1 percent from the floor for the game. It was the best defensive performance by Rutgers in Big East play since it joined the league in 1996, and Pitt’s shooting percentage was the lowest by a Scarlet Knights opponent since Stony Brook shot 20.4 percent on Nov. 28, 2001.
“If you’re going to have a good game you’ve got to get easy baskets and they were able to create easy baskets from their defense,” said Huggins. “They got some run outs and they got into the open floor and did a good job of getting into the open floor against Pitt, which is hard to do.”
Even more impressively, Rutgers owned the glass against the Panthers, out-rebounding the nation’s No. 1 rebounding team by 16.
“Pitt came in plus-13 rebounding the ball and they outrebounded them,” said Huggins. “The rebound difference was pretty impressive, particularly in light of the fact that they play three guards and those three guards had (21) of their rebounds.”
Minus an 85-64 loss to West Virginia on Jan. 4 and a two-point road loss at South Florida on Jan. 1, Rutgers has been playing exceptionally well of late, beginning with an 85-83 double-overtime victory over then 10th-ranked Florida on Dec. 29 in Piscataway.
Carter poured in 31 points, Miller added 16 and freshman Myles Mack came off the bench to score 14.
Then, last Saturday Rutgers knocked off then eighth-rated Connecticut in Piscataway. In that game, the Scarlet Knights held UConn to just 37.7 percent shooting and forced the Huskies into committing 20 turnovers in a 67-60 victory.
Rutgers got 19 from Carter and 11 off the bench from Mack.
Carter has reached double figures in 11 straight games and leads Rutgers in scoring with an average of 14.2 points per game. He has topped 20 points three times this year, most recently in a loss at USF on Jan. 1 when he poured in 23.
“He’s really competitive,” said Huggins. “He shoots the 3, which makes you have to close out on him, and he does a great job of getting to line. I think the biggest thing he does is drawing people into the lane and he does a great job of finishing for a smaller guy.”
Six-eight sophomore forward Gilvydas Biruta shows averages of 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and has scored double figures nine times this year, including a season-high 17 points against Hampton.
Mack is also averaging double digits at 10.2 points per game. He is shooting 52 percent from the floor, including 42 percent from 3 since coming off the bench seven games ago.
“It’s going to be a hard game,” said Huggins. “We’ve got to do a good job of containing their dribble penetration and like we did up there, do a good job of rebounding the ball.”
West Virginia (12-5, 3-2) is coming off a disappointing loss at Connecticut on Monday night. The Mountaineers had a double-digit lead on the Huskies midway through the second half before being outscored 28-11 over the remaining 11 minutes of the game. Senior forward Kevin Jones scored 22 points while junior forward Deniz Kilicli added 12.
“We ought to be the people that are upset,” said Huggins. “We’re coming off a loss. We let one get away from us that we conceivably could have had.”
Jones continues to lead the Mountaineers in scoring (19.9 ppg.), rebounding (11.5 rpg.) and field goal percentage (54.5). Senior guard Truck Bryant is averaging 17.8 points per game overall and 21.4 points per game in five Big East games so far. Kilicli has averages of 10.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Saturday’s game marks the 72nd meeting between the two schools, which have played each year since 1973, with the exception of the 2006 season. West Virginia is 45-26 overall against the Scarlet Knights including a 23-5 record at the WVU Coliseum. WVU has won the last four against Rutgers in Morgantown with the Scarlet Knights’ last victory coming in 2002.
Perennial Big East contenders Pitt, Villanova and Louisville are near the bottom of the league standings while teams such as Rutgers are in the middle of the pack.
“I think what’s happened is the teams that have kind of been in the bottom four or five have gotten so much better,” Huggins said. “Your guys think they have a night off and there just aren’t any nights off, particularly this year.
Tipoff for Saturday’s game is 2 p.m. and it will be televised on the Big East Network. A near-capacity crowd is expected.
West Virginia University Mountaineers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Big East basketball
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