Rutgers enters break on right side of things with 72-64 home win over Fairleigh Dickinson
PISCATAWAY — Lounging in the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s locker room in the bowels of the Louis Brown Athletic Center, Corey Sanders posted up in a leather stadium seat of the film room as reporters approached.
But before anyone could utter a word, he took the floor.
“First, we gotta take a Snapchat,” he said. “Media Snapchat — this (is) the media Snapchat.”
He then spun around and shot a selfie of all reporters surrounding him. He was all smiles after the Scarlet Knights escaped Wednesday night’s non-conference matchup with the Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson at the RAC by a 72-64 margin to snap a 2-game skid.
After the night the freshman guard had, the joy was merited. Sanders heated up in the second half with 14 of his game-high 21 points coming in the final 20 minutes of the ballgame.
Shooting 4-for-8 from 3-point land with a 7-for-10 mark from the free-throw line, Sanders registered a career-high in points during his team-high 35 minutes to march the Scarlet Knights (5-7) past a scare by FDU (4-7).
“It feels like some of the stuff we’re working on is paying off,” Sanders said. “Tonight, we had to ask a lot out of people and they stepped up big.”
As Sanders mentioned, he wasn’t the only one coming up clutch for a Rutgers lineup playing all over the place.
Down to eight scholarship players, sophomore forward D.J. Foreman and senior forward/center Greg Lewis both found themselves in foul trouble down the stretch with four personal fouls each.
But regardless of who took the floor for the Scarlet Knights, it was enough to get by the opposing Knights’ equally small lineup.
Battling the foul trouble, Lewis registered a season-high 10 points and ripped down a career-high 14 rebounds down in the paint over the span of his 31 minutes on the floor.
While Foreman struggled with six points and three boards as fouls limited his time on the court down to 21 minutes, Jonathan Laurent stepped up at the four and the five forward positions, notching 12 points and six rebounds in a spot where the 6-foot-6 freshman forward was desperately needed.
“Jon (Laurent), just knowing that what he has to learn to get through these new positions he’s playing at because of the injuries — he stepped up for us tonight and I thought that was the X Factor,” Sanders said.
It didn’t stop with Laurent off the bench.
Starting guard Mike Williams attacked the rim often for Rutgers, getting to the line and sinking 7-of-8 free throws to highlight a double-double where he had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“I think these young guys are starting to learn what it takes to win games,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t matter who you play — (it’s) Division I basketball.”
The sophomore gave the Scarlet Knights a lead they never relinquished, netting 1-of-2 from the line with 5:26 remaining to put his team up, 56-55, coming all the way back after trailing by as many as 12 in the first half.
Roughly two minutes later, Laurent weaved his way underneath for the up-and-under layup and the foul, getting what was present of the 3,624 in attendance up on their feet with a 59-55 gap extending.
Down the stretch from there, Rutgers wrapped up a Christmas present to itself, grabbing its second win in its past eight games.
Before getting back into the swing of things with their final non-conference matchup of the season against UMass-Lowell next Monday on Dec. 28 at the RAC, the Scarlet Knights plan on enjoying the brief break to come in the next couple of days.
And with the latest result coming on the right side of the game it has come so accustomed to losing, Rutgers can collectively exhale a sigh of relief and enjoy the time off.
But as much as Eddie Jordan is pleased with both factors coming together as his team steps aside, the third-year head coach is already looking forward to getting his players back to practice in one piece.
“I’m gonna make sure I open my presents early enough on Christmas,” Jordan said. “Look, it’s good that we can rest. But when guys go home … during the holidays, I want everyone back Saturday. I don’t care what they do at home. Just get back Saturday and let’s get ready to practice.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.
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