Rutgers tops Huskies with commanding run
Five minutes passed and C. Vivian Stringer decided enough was enough.
At the 14:51 mark in the first half of the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s second game of the season in front of a silenced crowd at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, a bad omen lingered.
While the No. 22 Scarlet Knights struggled from the field, Northeastern took advantage and scrapped its way to an early but shocking 12-6 lead.
Sophomore guard Tyler Scaife was helped off the court and into the locker room with an injury to her left wrist. With her status in question for a few minutes, so was the play of the team.
That led Stringer to intervene.
“It’s the same thing that we knew we needed to do from the beginning. We just weren’t as intense or as sharp as we needed to be,” the head coach said. “… I thought we could get more points if we just went to attack, so we tried to do a little bit more of that and move the ball.”
Scaife, along with the team’s play, returned to the floor minutes later. The Knights came out resurgent and hungry on a 14-0 run, outplaying Northeastern to the final buzzer of the first half and burying the Huskies in the second half in a 74-60 walloping on Tuesday night.
Following a 70-53 statement win last Friday in the season opener at home against St. Joseph’s, a team that reached the Round of 32 in last year’s NCAA Tournament, many expected Rutgers (2-0) to immediately come out and pound Northeastern (1-1) away.
But it didn’t go that way. Shots flew and they clanked off the rim. The Knights shot 38 percent from the field through the first eight minutes of the contest.
Coming off the timeout, Rutgers hit the ground running and didn’t look back. Despite Northeastern’s early energy, the Knights wore the Huskies down with speed in the transition game and suffocating defense that led to a pair of shot clock violations in the opening half.
Scaife opened up cold, but once she started going, she didn’t stop.
Dropping nine of her 15 points in the first half, Scaife served as a key catalyst in the momentum shift, ending a 29-13 run to end the half on a pull up shot from the free-throw line at the buzzer to send the Knights into the locker room with a 35-25 stranglehold.
Scaife attributed the cohesiveness between her and junior guard Briyona Canty, running the court and hitting shots, as a key one-two punch that lifted the offense and seized the momentum.
“We just got into our game and pushing the ball up the court,” Scaife said. “Briyona did a great job of finding me, so I was trying to finish for her. … At that point and time, we did let it flow, so it was just easy buckets.”
When the second half got underway, Stringer decided to kick things up a notch.
From the beginning Northeastern inbound, Rutgers swarmed with Stringer’s famous “55” full court press. The scheme stirred the Huskies into a frenzy, frantically turning the ball over a total of 22 times on the night.
On the other end of the floor, the Knights cashed in.
As Canty and Scaife ran rampantly with the ball from end to end, it opened up opportunities on all areas of the hardwood. The Knights had five players score double-figures.
Betnijah Laney found her groove in the midst of the up-tempo attack, camping out on both sides of the baseline and nailing jumper after jumper. The senior wing ended her night with her second consecutive double-double of the season, posting 14 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
As she began to increase her activity in the second half, Canty became a critical asset to the tempo of Rutgers’ game. She dropped 12 points and dished out 10 assists for her first-career double-double.
“I think it was just a major part,” Canty said of her game. “Me, being a point guard, I have a major role for the team, so I think getting them involved first was my first goal. And then I took shots in rotation.”
With so many viable scoring options on the court, the interior opened up for Rachel Hollivay.
The 6-foot-4 junior center towered over an undersized and undermanned Northeastern squad that consisted of eight players, dominating in the paint with 10 points and a swat sent deep into the baseline bleachers.
Junior wing Kahleah Copper gradually got into the action. Her midrange game and penetration took off in the second half. She contributed 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Even with all of the positives taken away from the Knights’ second victory of the season, Stringer still sees a need to pick up the intensity and get off to better starts from the jump.
But with an upperclassmen-laden team filled with returning players who know the consequences of failing to make those adjustments, Stringer has no doubt that those tweaks will be made.
“We’ve had, traditionally, a problem with being slow or difficult for us to get started,” she said. “… I just feel that with this group being as senior-bound and junior-bound as they are, they need to know — it’s just as simple as that. We all felt the same thing last year — the pride, the disappointment, the joy, the hurt — we felt that and we know what it is. So I don’t need to reiterate that … the leadership has been there.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.