Baker, Sanders lead Rutgers to dominating victory over Bryant

It was about a good a birthday as Steve Pikiell could have hoped for, as he saw his team blow out Bryant on Tuesday night by a score of 83-54.

The Rutgers basketball team saw true freshman guard Geo Baker explode for 29 points to pace the group's strongest offensive performance of the year.

After coming off the bench in the Knights' last game against Coppin State due to a lack of effort in practice, junior guard Corey Sanders showed that he received Pikiell's message, scoring 18 points on an efficiend 8-14 mark from the field. He also added 4 rebounds and 5 assists in arguably his best game of the young season.

In the first half, he scored 6 points in a 34-second stretch, as he hit a step-back jumper, stole a pass and threw down a slam-dunk in transition, then put in a lay-up on an alley-oop.

"(Corey) made some game-changing plays and also he gets the crowd into the game. He made some big pays for us during those spurts."

That individual effort helped to spark a 13-0 run for Rutgers, giving the team a 34-17 lead that the Knights would not relinquish.

Sanders' 57.1 percent mark from the field was his best of the season and his 35 minutes were also his highest mark of the year. It was clear the way he controlled the offense and most importantly, the way he played defense, gave Pikiell more confidence in him and why he played so many minutes against an inferior oppenent. 

"Corey's been awesome," Pikiell said. "I want him to overachieve. Today he locked in. He's improved a tremendous amount and you saw some of that today."

Heading into Tuesday's game, Rutgers boasted the top scoring defense in the nation, giving up 45.5 points per game. And while the 54 points surrendered to the Bulldogs was nearly 10 points moer than their average, the Knights nearly broke the Rutgers record for blocks in a game, with their 16 rejection just two shy of the program mark of 18, set in 2009 against St. Peter's.

"We have some athletes that can cause some problems and I think our size too helps in games like this," Pikiell said.

And with the defensive praise for Sanders and the big men is well-deserved, it was the offensive prowess, specifically that of Baker, that stole the show.

The true freshman out of Derry, New Hampshire caught fire early and never really cooled off. He started off the game making 3 of his first 4 shots from behind the arc and finished the contest 7-of-10 from deep.

Those 7 made three pointers were the most by a Rutgers freshman since Todd Billet made the 8 back in 2000 in a 76-51 win over Notre Dame.

"Just keep shooting," he said of his mindset during the game. "I have really good teammates with me and they're doing a really good job of finding me in the open spots. They were telling me to stay confident and keep shooting. I just felt really good today."

With Baker and Sanders -- two electric guards -- playing at a high level, the sky is the limit for the Rutgers offense. Sanders has showed tremendous improvement on the defensive end as well, as he set a career-high in rebounds against Cleveland State and seemingly has a steal turned into a breakaway dunk every game.

"I take every day the same. (I) just try to go out there and play my hardest. Play with my team, run the team like I'm supposed to," Sanders said. "Tonight I had some shots fall, (I) was able to find Geo, he had some shots fall. It was a good night for us. We got on the defensive end first and that led to the offense."

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

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