Rutgers vs. Fairleigh Dickinson: Guards dominate in blowout victory
For seemingly the first time this season, it all came together for the Rutgers men's basketball team. The Scarlet Knights (8-3, 0-2) dominated in every facet of the game en route to a 92-54 rout of Fairleigh Dickinson (3-6) on Saturday night.
And while it was a complete team effort, it was the play of the guards that stood out the most. Corey Sanders (19), Geo Baker (19) and Mike Williams (17) combined for 55 points, more than the entire Fairleigh Dickinson team.
Here are three observations on the guard play alone:
Geo Baker is really good
Baker has been inconsistent at times, but had his best game of the season on Saturday night. He had his first career double-double with 19 points and 11 assists, while turning the ball over just one time.
"I'm more excited about the one turnover," said head coach Steve Pikiell of his performance. "... He's a really good passer, so he's brought a dimension to us that we didn't have last year. His development has been great."
He was very efficient from the field, going 7-of-11 on field goal attempts and did not miss any 2-point baskets, while also going a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Additionally, he and Sanders flashed great chemistry, connecting on an alley-oop in the first half and combining for an astounding 38 points and 14 assists. Although it wasn't against top competition, the two showed what they are capable of when playing at their best.
"Both of them are really figuring it out and they're keeping their game simple. I think they're playing to their strengths," Pikiell said.
Mike Williams looked like his old self
The senior captain has struggled early on this season, not playing to the same level that helped him become a fan favorite a year ago. But on Saturday night, he looked like that same player, pulling in three offensive rebounds and converting several contested layups while getting fouled. He made the most of those opportunities, too, making all six of his free throws.
"I've challenged (Williams) the last three or four (games) to rebound," Pikiell said. "Because he's rebounding, he's getting back to the foul line too and doing some nice things around the basket."
Rutgers does as its guards do
While there is definitely talent in the front court in guys like Deshawn Freeman and Eugene Omoruyi, the Knights are clearly a guard-centric team. In the team's worst game of the season -- an 89-67 loss to then-No. 12 Minnesota -- the guard play was terrible. Sanders had five turnovers and he, Baker and Williams combined to shoot 25 percent from the field. When Rutgers struggled against NJIT on Thursday, Baker turned the ball over six times. He was a completely different player against Fairleigh Dickinson, with his 11:1 assist to turnover ratio being the best mark of his young career.
Baker said that he had a productive conversation with Pikiell after his poor play against the Highlanders two days prior, discussing him having a better approach on offense.
"I came in today and brought that focus (of) just wanting to share the ball," Baker said of his performance Saturday.
With the way those three guards played, combined with Issa Thiam's relatively quiet but impressive 11 point, nine rebound performance, it is clear how good the Knights backcourt can be when everyone is on the same page.
Sanders has never had this much talent around him during his time on the Banks and noted how it's helping his game when he knows there is help around him.
"It just makes it easier when I can attack and guys are drawing in on me and I can kick it out to my teammates," Sanders said. "Tonight, shots were falling and it just felt good to see those shots going in. So it just makes the game easier for me as a playmaker and a scorer."
Rutgers is at its best when Sanders and Baker are on the same page and that was definitely the case in Saturday's 38-point domination.
And when that connection becomes a nightly occurrence, watch out.
"Since (Baker's) gotten here, I knew that we would be a good backcourt together," Sanders said. "I haven't really had to coach him up or anything cause when you play basketball and you're a good player, it just comes to you."