Rutgers levels Fairleigh Dickinson, 92-54, behind Baker, Sanders backcourt


CoreySandersFDU
Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Not many teams lose when they go on 16-0 runs, and as of Saturday, that logic could be applied to the Rutgers men's basketball team.

The Scarlet Knights (8-3, 0-2) capped off a snowy Saturday with a 92-54 win at home against Fairleigh Dickinson, with Rutgers playing 40 minutes of outstanding basketball to keep the Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson out of contention throughout.

The Scarlet Knights were clicking in almost every area from the start against the visiting Knights, effectively finishing them off in the final 7 minutes of the first half, putting together a 20-4 run to close out the period.

It all started with the backcourt, as Saturday's contest was the first time in a while where both junior guard Corey Sanders and freshman guard Geo Baker connected in the same game. They set the pace together in the first half, combining for 27 of Rutgers' 50 points.

"Both of them have really figured it out," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "They’re keeping their game simple. I think they’re playing to their strengths. They’re doing a real good job. I can move them both around, and I think we’re getting more comfortable with both of them playing on the ball and off the ball."

The two settled into their primary roles, with Sanders benefitting from iso-ball, driving to the hoop and pulling up from mid-range, while Baker on the other hand took the traditional role of point guard, notching 11 assists on the night to lead both squads.

And once again starting with Sanders and Baker, the Scarlet Knights found their shot from behind the arc, shooting 7-of-17 (41.2 percent) — up from its average of 26.9 percent coming into the game. Rutgers shared the wealth from downtown, with Sanders, Baker, sophomore forward Issa Thiam and senior guard Mike Williams all recording 3-pointers.

Williams proved another key figure in the backcourt, coming off the bench for 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He earned his minutes from the line, shooting a perfect 6-of-6, helping the Scarlet Knights' middling 68 percent as a team from the charity stripe.

"If you throw in Issa’s nine rebounds and 11 points, our back court was really good tonight. (We've) been waiting for a game like this," Pikiell said. "Corey has had a great night, Mike has had a great night, Geo has had a great night, Issa has had a couple of them too. Tonight, we had a couple guys play well at the same time and we know that bodes well."

Outside of the backcourt, the team was also back to its rebounding form, at least in relation to Fairleigh Dickinson. Rutgers out-rebounded the Knights, 49-30, as part of a strong defensive effort from the home side Saturday night.

The Scarlet Knights held Fairleigh Dickinson to 32.2 percent shooting on the night, while shooting 53.3 percent itself, with Baker, Sanders and William providing the majority of the offense, collecting 55 of the team's 92 points overall.

But along with its rebounds and stout shot coverage, the team also turned its defense into offense, forcing 15 turnovers out of the opposing Knights, leading to 16 points off turnovers.

It was a remarkable showing of composure and ability for a team playing its fourth game in seven days, a schedule that will level out in the coming days following the team's next game against Fordham on Tuesday.

Against a side Rutgers should have easily put away — with Seton Hall looming just a week away — it did just that without a hitch.

"I just think we had one of those nights where everything was going in," Pikiell said. "We were really sharing the game. We were locked in to rebounding. We wanted to contest every 3, because they’re a very good 3-point shooting team. I thought we had good energy today and our guys earned a well-deserved day off tomorrow.”


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Jon Spilletti

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