Rutgers wears down East Carolina in convincing 61-47 victory
It was the blackout game on Black Friday for the Rutgers men's basketball team and early on, blacked out would be the perfect way to describe the Scarlet Knights' offense.
But after that slow first half that featured a 27.6 percent field goal mark, Rutgers stepped it up to 36.4 in the second to pull away from an overmatched East Carolina team for a 61-47 victory.
There was only one player in double figures for the Knights (6-0) in senior captain and forward Deshawn Freeman, who had his first double-double of the season with his 15 points and 11 rebounds.
"I guess it was just one of those days," Freeman said of his early energy that kept his team afloat. "Some days you got a lot of energy and some days you don't. It just got us going."
Despite Freeman's strong day, it was the defense that won the game for Rutgers, holding the Pirates to under 50 points and forcing 19 turnovers, while the Knights only gave it away 7 times.
"Our defense kind of carried us today," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "We had a lot of obstacles."
Those obstacles included early foul trouble for junior starting point guard Corey Sanders and a stagnant offense that saw his team losing to East Carolina for a good deal of the first half.
But the defense was able to lock down the Pirates, holding them scoreless for a 6:26 stretch that saw the Rutgers turn a 13-7 deficit into a 19-13 advantage that it would not relinquish.
"I thought we did a great job with their two leading scorers," Pikiell said, alluding to ECU's BJ Tyson and Kentrell Barkley.
The two stars for the Pirates came into Friday's contest combing for 32 points a game. The Knights held Tyson to just 8 on 3-9 shooting and Barkley did not register a point, missing all six shots he took in his 30 minutes on the floor.
And when you look past Freeman in the box score, there is nothing that sticks out to the naked eye. But to anyone watching the game, the play of junior center Shaq Doorson was a big reason why Rutgers was able to win by double-digits with only one player in double figures -- the first win of that type since 2008, when Mike Rosario scored 27 to lead the Knights over Robert Morris, 69-55.
The Netherlands native had 8 points and 9 rebounds -- on 3 slam dunks and 2-2 from the free throw line -- to give Rutgers a true threat in the paint coming off the bench.
"He's getting in that game condition and shape," Pikiell said. "He can bring a dimension that we desperately need and didn't have... I'm really proud that he stayed the course and keeps getting better."
Number-wise, Doorson has been the worst free throw shooter on a team that is not very good in that area to begin with. In his freshman campaign three seasons ago, he was 3-13 (21.3 percent) and a year ago he was 3-15 (20 percent). Against Bryant on Tuesday, he missed all three attempts. But on Friday, after being fouled and missing the shot, he stepped up to the line and hit nothing but net two times in a row. He also contributed a block, a steal and did not commit a foul in 15 minutes of play.
Doorson has had a rough past with the program, as he missed the entire 2015-2016 season with a foot injury and was never at 100 percent last season. But now in full health, Doorson is finally showing everyone what he has been capable of.
"Yea it definitely did (feel good)," he said when asked about having a breakout game after so much missed time. "(I'm) just getting better day by day, just taking it on a daily basis. It feels good."