Rutgers (4-0) used a dominating bench performance to take down Niagara (0-4) this afternoon by a score of 78-65. The win helped them reach 4-0 for the first time since 2000.
The game had its share of chippiness, and Corey Sanders was ejected after receiving his second technical midway through the second half. But the Knights persevered and picked up their fourth consecutive win to open the season. Steve Pikiell also became the first coach in school history to begin his tenure 4-0.
Here are the most important takeaways:
- Interchangeable parts – This is easily the deepest team we’ve had in a long time, and that depth had a major impact on this game. Our bench outscored Niagara’s bench 42-3, with Nigel Johnson’s 20 points leading the way. Candido Sa, Mike Williams, and Eugene Omoruyi also played well on both ends of the floor. Most importantly, when Corey Sanders was ejected, we didn’t skip a beat. Huge plus.
- Block party at the RAC – Steve Pikiell hangs his hat on defense, and the team defense was suffocating today. In total, Rutgers accounted for 11 blocks. Candido Sa led the way with 4, while CJ Gettys added 3, but that doesn’t even begin to describe all the shots altered on the way to the rim. Niagara shot just 31% on the day, but only 23% from 2-point territory. Had it not been for their hot 3-point shooting (50%), this game would have been a blowout.
- Another big run to take control – At the 14:53 mark of the second half, Marvin Prochet hit a 3 to give Niagara a 42-41 lead. Over the next 5 minutes of game action, Rutgers went on a 16-0 run which effectively put the game on ice. This has been another common theme of the young season, and it’s nice to see the team fighting through adversity and imposing their will.
- Weird day for the officials – Usually, I don’t harp on the officiating, but this was a weird one. In the first half, only 11 total fouls were called (6 on Niagara, 5 on Rutgers). The refs seemed to want to let the players play. Perfect officiating, in my opinion. But at the start of the second half, they began calling a MUCH tighter game, including touch fouls on the perimeter. And I’m really not sure what happened on the second Corey Sanders technical. It looked like he mumbled to himself (probably disputing the call) and the ref gave him the quick hook. It didn’t impact the game, but again, just a strange performance from the officiating crew.
The Scarlet Knights (3-0) return home on Sunday for an early afternoon matchup against Niagara (0-3).
The Knights are off to their best start since 2008, and have been overwhelming opponents with their size. That does not bode well for Niagara, who don’t have a rotation player taller than 6’8″ on their roster.
Here’s what I’m looking for:
- Control the glass – This may end up being a common theme throughout most of the out-of-conference schedule. But in this one especially, with RU’s huge size advantage, we should dominate on the boards. Keep in mind, in the last two games, Rutgers is a combined +48 in that department. We are also currently the #1 team in the nation in Offensive Rebounding Efficiency, according to KenPom.
- Come out fast – In all three games this season, Rutgers has taken some time to get going. Division II Molloy was within 10 at the break. Drexel was down 2 before a 13-0 Rutgers run to close the first half. And DePaul kept things tight throughout the first half. I’d love to see a suffocating performance from start to finish in this one.
- Avoid the letdown – It seems like every season, Rutgers picks up an inexcusable loss to a bad out-of-conference opponent. This year, we’ve started 3-0 and some people are already looking ahead in the schedule and talking about 6-0. On paper, everything points to a win against Niagara. They’ve already lost to Buffalo, Brown, and Hartford. We can’t get complacent and let this one slip away.
I called DePaul a true barometer game before last Thursday’s clash, and overall I think we performed well, although it looked a little shaky in the last 5 minutes. We have to build on that momentum in this game.
Defend, rebound, play with energy, and we should be able to take care of business on our home floor. We’ll find out more on Sunday.