The Scarlet Knights (5-0) stayed perfect on Wednesday night, defeating North Texas (1-3) by a score of 66-53.
The first half was slow and plodding, with both teams getting off to an ice cold start. But as has been the case often this year, Rutgers surged in the second half and pulled away for a comfortable win.
Here are the most important takeaways:
- Master of Adjustments – I don’t know what Pike is telling his guys in the locker room, but whatever it is, it’s working. This was the third game in a row that’s been tight going to the break, and each time we’ve taken over the game and extended the lead in the second half. This time, it was a 18-2 Rutgers run midway through the second half that did the damage.
- Overcoming a poor shooting night – You want a positive sign from a fairly sloppy game? How about Rutgers shooting 37% from the field and 15% from 3-point range and still winning by double-digits? Luckily, the best ways to overcome poor shooting are the two biggest strengths of this team – defense and rebounding. Rutgers was excellent in both areas again tonight, holding North Texas to 33% from the field and winning the rebounding battle 53-28. Even more impressive, the Knights were able to defend without fouling, giving North Texas only 6 free throw attempts overall.
- The Captain breaks out – Deshawn Freeman was one of the few bright spots on last year’s team, but struggled to establish himself in the game against Niagara. Not tonight. He posted 13 points and 15 rebounds in 28 minutes and was the best player on the floor for extended stretches. This was his third double-double on the season.
Next Up – Hartford on Friday afternoon at the RAC
The Scarlet Knights (4-0) are off to their best start since 2000 and return to the RAC to take on North Texas (1-2) on Wednesday night. There seems to be a genuine buzz building around RU early on in the season, and on Sunday, Steve Pikiell became the first coach to begin his tenure with 4 consecutive wins.
Rutgers will face a quick turnaround after this game, as they face Hartford on Friday afternoon at the RAC. But for now, the only focus is North Texas.
Here’s what I’m looking for:
- Corey Sanders return – In case you’ve forgotten, Corey was ejected after a second technical foul against Niagara. In the postgame press conference, it was obvious that Pike was not happy with the way Corey handled himself on the court. Personally, I didn’t see much in either technical, but I agree that Corey has to use a little more restraint. Especially considering that he was suspended last year for multiple games. I think he understands that now and is ready to move forward, and I expect a big game from him on Wednesday.
- More exceptional bench play – The reserves were incredible against Niagara, running up a 42-3 advantage in bench points. I would think that Nigel Johnson eventually breaks into the starting lineup, and maybe that even happens for this game. Even if he does though, there is still plenty of talent available to spell the starters. Candido Sa and Mike Williams, in particular, have both been excellent so far.
- Fast start – I know, I know. This was one of my keys for last game too. But I think it’s even more important here with the quick turnaround afterwards. North Texas is currently ranked at #287 by KenPom, while Rutgers has moved up to #151. North Texas also lost to Drexel by 21, just one week after Rutgers beat Drexel by 21. These are positive signs for RU. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but I’d love to see us come out of the gates fast and put this one away early.
As great as it is to be 4-0, I’m sure Steve Pikiell is doing everything he can to keep the players grounded and playing as a team. The focus for this week has to be avoiding any letdowns and adding two more W’s.
That starts tomorrow night at the RAC.