Sykes’ MVP performance spurs San Juan Shootout victory
It was tough to gauge which April Sykes the No. 13 Rutgers women’s basketball team would get heading into the San Juan Shootout — the Scarlet Knights’ leading scorer last season or the inconsistent shooter of the previous two.
After the senior forward earned the San Juan Shootout Most Valuable Player award, it was clear what version head coach C. Vivian Stringer had on the floor.
Thanks to a 14-point effort from Sykes, the Knights held off Arizona State, 59-52, Saturday to win the San Juan Shootout after again struggling from the tipoff.
Just like the Knights’ (6-0) other slow starts, the team stayed together.
“I thought that we didn’t give up,” Stringer said in a press release. “When we got hit, we fell down and staggered a little bit, but we came back. We seemed to be a step slow. Arizona State is a team that plays extremely aggressive man-to-man defense. Their pressure created a problem, and I thought we lost composure for a split second but we were able to battle back. We’ll be better when we see a team like that again.”
The Sun Devils’ pressure stymied the Knights early, as ASU went on a 10-2 run to open the contest. Rutgers also turned the ball over 18 times in the game.
The early hole kept the game close until the final 1:30 of play, when a jumper by junior guard Erica Wheeler spearheaded an 8-2 Rutgers run.
Wheeler finished with eight points after starting her second game, while fifth-year senior Khadijah Rushdan tacked on 13 points and nine rebounds.
Rushdan continues to lead the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game, while Sykes begins to find her 3-point stroke.
The Starkville, Miss., native posted a 4-for-6 shooting clip from beyond the arc in Puerto Rico after shooting a miserable 25 percent in the previous four games.
Sykes led the team in both games of the San Juan Shootout, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds in the Knights’ tournament opening 59-40 rout of Georgia Tech.
But the victory was a product of the Knights’ ever-growing defensive success. Stringer’s 55-press, combined with smothering half-court defense, held the Yellow Jackets to 13 percent shooting in the first half and 21.4 for the game.
The turnover bug still plagued the Knights, who suffered 24 in the blowout, but Stringer’s defense did enough to earn the victory.
“It was a matter of two teams that like to press and both teams like to run,” Stringer said in a press release. “It was a test of wills — which one was going to do what they do. I was really pleased with the way our team came out and executed. We followed through with what we said we were going to do and it was nice to see.”
With an unblemished record, the Knights return home to the Louis Brown Athletic Center for a rematch with Temple.
The Owls upset the Knights, 60-58, last season in Philadelphia, a game in which Rutgers attempted only five 3-pointers to the Owls’ 24.
After Sykes found her stroke in Puerto Rico, Stringer can be sure of what to expect from her biggest 3-point threat Wednesday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
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