Rutgers snaps 4-game skid, wakes up in second half with 75-59 win over CCSU
The hardwood floors near midcourt read "THE RAC" in scarlet block lettering, but the atmosphere made it easy to mistake the venue for Alexander Library.
Based on the scenery landscaping, the 3,131-announced crowd in attendance at the Louis Brown Athletic Center for Tuesday night's Rutgers men's basketball game against Central Connecticut, the setting for the 6 p.m. tip-off on Big Ten Network featured a winless mid-major and a reeling home team.
It wasn't ideal — nor was it pretty — but the Scarlet Knights eventually woke up from their first-half sleepwalk to pull away with a 75-59 victory over the Blue Devils in the second half.
"I thought the story of the game was our second half approach and what we did in the second half ... and that was pretty much the key, how we came out in the second half," said head coach Eddie Jordan. "We sustained it, we changed our pressure up ... we got our energy up."
Rutgers (4-5) needed the spark to snap a four-game losing streak with the victory, climbing back into the win column in a game where it desperately needed to right some of the wrongs that have plagued the team during its early-season skid.
Still lacking the depth it projected to have at the beginning of the year without sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (foot, out indefinitely) and the team's leading-scorer in junior forward Deshawn Freeman (sore knee, out), the Knights needed greater distribution throughout the roster.
While it was absent throughout the opening period, Rutgers received the spark it needed when freshman guard Corey Sanders got the team running on the Blue Devils (0-8) with three of his four 3-point field goals coming in the latter half of the game.
"I can shoot the ball. I just try to find my rhythm," Sanders said. "Looking at tape and stuff, I've really just been focusing on, like, 'I gotta knock down these shots,' and got great opportunities to shoot the shots ... and they went down today. I can't complain."
The freshman notched a game-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, converting on all four of his attempts from behind the 3-point arc in a bit of a surprise to those familiar with the point guard's pass-first game that features his instinct to attack the rim on high-percentage shots.
Sanders, who also dished out six assists to keeps his teammates involved and add fluency to the Knights' offense throughout the course of the contest, spoke about Rutgers needing to step up down to nine scholarship players on the roster.
But in his next appearance, he was the one who embraced the challenge in a team-high 32 minutes.
"I try to play consistent every night and I think that pretty much shows," Sanders said. "I just played ball."
Senior guard Bishop Daniels' 17 points on 7-for-12 field goal mark in his 28 minutes off the bench added to the resurgent Knights attack, while freshman forward Jonathan Laurent also chipped in 15 more points on 6-for-10 shooting with a 2-for-4 clip from 3-point range during his 26 minutes.
Days after Seton Hall bodied Rutgers on the glass and in the paint, the Knights responded by outscoring CCSU by a margin of 38-18 down in the paint on top of gaining a 39-32 edge in rebounding.
Daniels, who confirmed Sanders' mention of Rutgers' players-only meeting on Sunday after the disappointing drubbing to Seton Hall over the weekend, knew the Knights needed to put an end to downward trend of play that peaked on Saturday against the Pirates.
"I think it's something we needed to do as players because coaches can teach us all day long," Daniels said. "But as far as the effort and stuff like that, we need to demand it from each other more."
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