Notebook: Corey Sanders overcomes illness, starting lineup shuffled for 1st time in win over Fairleigh-Dickinson


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Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Nigel Johnson passes the ball in the Rutgers' 82-69 win over Fairleigh-Dickinson at the Rutgers Athletic Center. Johnson made the first start of his Rutgers career in the Knights' win.


While the rest of his teammates were likely getting a sound night of sleep in lieu of the Rutgers men's basketball team's home matchup with Fairleigh-Dickinson on Wednesday night, Corey Sanders was in the hospital. 

Sanders ventured to the hospital in the early hours of Wednesday morning because he was having trouble swallowing. He spent about three hours there before he was diagnosed with strep throat at around 5:30 in the morning.

But when tipoff at the Rutgers Athletic Center finally came around 11-plus hours after his early-morning departure from the hospital, Sanders was not only present and in uniform, but in the starting lineup as as well. 

"I didn't participate in the shoot around. Coach told me get fluids in my body and things like that and if I felt better I would be starting and I would play," Sanders said. "I got some fluids and medicine in me. I just had to will it out."

Sanders willed it out and then some. 

Despite feeling under the weather the sophomore guard didn't appear to be affected at all as he logged 26 minutes and tied for the team lead in points with 15 in the Scarlet Knights' 82-69 win over the Black Knights

"I’ve got to give a tip of the cap to Corey Sanders, he’s been sick all day," said head coach Steve Pikiell.

On the heels of a spectacular freshman season on the Banks, Sanders endured a cold shooting stretch to start the 2016-17 season. Through the first eight games the Lakeland, Florida, native was shooting just 30 percent from the field and had made one of his first 16 shots from downtown. 

Sanders had strung together consecutive strong shooting performances in the Knights previous two outings, and he keep that momentum going Wednesday night. He made 6 of his 11 shots from the field, as he was aggressive in attacking the rim all night. He also made 3 of his 4 free throw attempts.

Over the past three games Sanders is shooting 18 of 30 from the floor, which is good for a staggering 60 percent clip.

"I feel like I was taking good shots. It was just coming to me tonight," Sanders said. "I'm still going to push through with whatever sickness I got. Tonight's going to be an early night for me. Get in the bed with fluids and stuff like that. I'm just glad that we were able to pull out the win."

***

Success doesn't tend to be synonymous with change.

That's why it was somewhat surprising to see head coach Steve Pikiell shuffle his starting unit for the first time this season when the 9-1 Rutgers men's basketball team hosted Fairleigh-Dickinson on Tuesday.  

Sophomore forward Jonathan Laurent was sent to the bench in favor or junior guard Nigel Johnson, who had been averaging 28.5 minutes per game as a reserve. 

"I just wanted to see and I thought John was good coming off the bench," Pikiell said of the starting lineup shuffle after the Scarlet Knights' 82-69 win. "I wanted to flip it a little bit and have another ballhandler, also knowing Corey was a little bit under the weather. I look at our guys (like) Mike (Williams) is a starter Candido (Sa) is a starter. That stuff never factors in. Just thought with Corey being a little under the weather and John come off the bench and give us a little bit of a spark. Nigel gave us good minutes and a lot of faith in John. There will be games for him and I thought the matchups were favorable for Nigel."

While Pikiell doesn't put much of any stock into who starts and who comes off the bench, something of more note is the contrast in the distribution of minutes to Laurent, and Johnson and the rest of the wings. 

In his first career start on the Banks, Johnson would go on to play a season-high 35 minutes, while also having one of his better all-around games of the early season. The Kansas State transfer scored 8 points, dished out a team-high seven assists and pulled down seven rebounds. 

"Whatever coach needed me to do I was ready to fulfill the needs he had for us and whatever it took to get the win," Johnson said.

The rest of the minutes on the wing were mostly funneled to junior Mike Williams (26), sophomore guard Corey Sanders (26) and freshman wing Issa Thiam (25).

On the other end of the rotation was Laurent, whose seven minutes of action were tied with freshman forward Eugene Omoruyi for the least amount of playing time among the 10 Scarlet Knights to see the floor on Wednesday. 

Laurent didn't make his first stint in the second half until the 1:17 mark of a game that was already comfortably decided in Rutgers' favor.

Since logging 28 minutes against DePaul in the Knights' third game of the season, Laurent has seen his action decrease sharply. In the past four games he's logged over eight minutes just once. 

"This isn't little league baseball, everyone doesn't get up to the plate," Pikiell said when asked about Laurent's decrease in minutes. "I play the best, I'm fair to the rest. Right now Mike has been playing great. Issa, when he shoots the ball brings us a weapon. Playing Corey minutes. Playing a lot of guys. John will have his turn again. You see (sophomore center Shaquille Doorson) coming on too, I have to figure out a way to get him some more minutes. Minutes are always an issue."


For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @EricMullin_ and @TargumSports on Twitter.


Eric Mullin

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