KRUSH EDITION: Across enemy lines: Rutgers basketball

By The Daily Illini Basketball Staff

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini sat down with Brian Fonseca, the sports editor of The Daily Targum, the student newspaper at Rutgers and talked about Illinois, Rutgers and how Tuesday’s game might go.

Daily Illini: Despite their records, Illinois and Rutgers put on quite the show the last time they met– are these teams more evenly matched than Illini fans may want to believe?

Brian Fonseca: The thrilling 110-101 triple-overtime game the last time these two teams met was the best game of the season for both teams and it was precisely because of how evenly matched the teams are.

Rutgers has been plagued with injuries this season, especially in the front court where they’re without JUCO transfer forward Deshawn Freeman (knee) — who had been its best player until he got injured — sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (foot) and redshirt freshman forward Ibrahima Diallo for most of the season and all of Big Ten conference play.

This had the Scarlet Knights playing with only two players taller than 6-foot-6 against teams with multiple towering forwards in the Big Ten until the Illinois game.

DI: Now in his third straight losing season at Rutgers, is Eddie Jordan on the hot seat at all?

BF: The fan base began the season with optimism and belief in Eddie Jordan’s ability to improve from last season, when Rutgers ended on a 15 game losing streak with multiple blowouts becoming the regular. Freshman guard Corey Sanders was the biggest recruit the Knights landed in years, so he was expected to help elevate their game.

But after starting the conference schedule with 12 straight losses — seven of which coming by at least 20 points — fans are starting to ask questions of Jordan.

DI: How important would a Big Ten win be to Rutgers?

BF: A Big Ten win would be huge for the program.

Rutgers has lost 27 straight games against Big Ten competition dating back to last January. The last time the Knights won an in-conference game, it was the biggest upset in school history over then-No. 4 and eventual national runners-up Wisconsin. Rutgers is currently 2-28 in Big Ten regular season play two-thirds of the way through its second season in the conference.

DI: Corey Sanders hung 39 points the last time these teams met– will the gameplan be to attack Illinois’ point guards?

BF: Corey Sanders has been Rutgers best player of the season without question, and he’s been improving game-by-game at attacking the rim and distributing good passes to his teammates. Rutgers lead Illinois 54-36 in the points in the paint, so that is an area it wants to explore to take advantage of the team’s similar size. Expect Sanders to lead the Knights in scoring for the fourth straight game by taking on his defender and try to drive to the rim multiple times while also looking for his bigs in the paint.

DI: Omari Grier and Jonathan Laurent also enjoyed career games in the OT thriller, how were they able to perform above expectations?

BF: Jonathan Laurent has been growing game-by-game for Rutgers much like Sanders. While he wasn’t very efficient against Ohio State Saturday (2-for-7), he was fearless in attacking the rim with moves he’s been developing all season.

Grier, a graduate transfer, has not seen as much development as Laurent. He’s had a number of games in which he’s led Rutgers in scoring, particularly when he gets hot from deep.

DI: If you could have any player on Illinois transfer over to Rutgers, who would it be?

BF: Malcolm Hill. The 6-foot-6 guard torched Rutgers in the last meeting between the teams, getting to the free throw line 20 times, only three less than the entire Knights team. Overall, Hill is a phenomenal player.

Compiled by Joey Figueroa