Rutgers ties NCAA record in win over Eastern Michigan

The Rutgers men’s basketball team bounced back from a tough loss against St. John's over the weekend in a big way, cruising by Eastern Michigan for a 63-36 win at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).

The Scarlet Knights (3-1) head into the Thanksgiving break on a high note after tying an NCAA Division I record in the first half of the game. Rutgers held the Eagles to just 4 points after 20 minutes of play — tied for the fewest points scored in a first half since the shot-clock era began in 1986.

“I like the way we started the game, obviously. I think we were locked in. We were ready to play,” said head coach Steve Pikiell after the game. “… That’s our kind of defense. I know we have a chance to be a really, really good defensive team.”

The Knights came out of the gates gunning for Eastern Michigan, starting the game off with an 11-0 run. Back-to-back layups by junior forward Eugene Omoruyi and graduate student center Shaquille Doorson got things started and were then followed up by a 3-pointer from sophomore guards Geo Baker and Peter Kiss.

Rutgers grabbed its first 20-point lead of the game with 7:56 left on the first half clock, when Kiss hit another 3-pointer to put the Knights up 22-2. The team was very unselfish with the ball through the first half, as it finished with nine assists and all five starters with at least 5 points.

As a team, Rutgers shot a respectable 41.7 percent (5-12) from 3-point range and also stole the ball five times from the Eagles, putting up a nice display of 3-and-D tactics.

That defense showed, as the Knights took a 31-4 lead into the halftime locker rooms to tie the first-half record and tie an overall half record as well.

“I was really proud of them,” Pikiell said. “We were aggressive, we got in stances. Their leading scorer, he had 28 against Boston University … we held him to 0.”

Eastern Michigan made things more competitive in the second half, matching its first-half point total within the first minute of play, which led to an immediate timeout by Pikiell, who wasn’t happy with the defensive effort.

Baker really opened things up for himself in the second half, scoring 14 points on 5-5 shooting (4-4 from 3) to finish the game with 20 points on 7-9 shooting (6-8 from 3). He added two assists and two steals to his stat line as well.

“I wanted to bounce back from the last game,” Baker said. “I think that I wasn’t really aggressive enough in the St. John's game. Every shooters eyes light up when they see a zone (defense). So I feel that I had some open looks and I’m just glad that they went down today.”

Whatever Rutgers was doing in the first half on defense didn’t exactly carry over into the second, as the two teams actually tied at 32 apiece in scoring in the final 20 minutes. 

The other starters rounded out the majority of the scoring for the Knights in this one, after big games from the bench in the first three games of the season.

Doorson and Omoruyi had 9 points each and also played 19 minutes each. Doorson finished the game 4-4 from the field and has now gone through four games of play without missing a shot (10-10).

“We wanted to keep them 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the arc,” Doorson said. “During the first half I think we got it around 8 percent from the field, which is a great job. So we are going to just try and do it in the next games.”

Kiss was the only other Rutgers player to finish in double figures with 10 points on a rough 3-11 shooting. But the shooter kept things consistent from beyond the arc, going 3-6 from 3.

Junior forward Issa Thiam seemed to have a quiet game with only 7 points, but in reality he led the Knights in assists with six and grabbed three boards as well. 

Rutgers will now have some time to rest and celebrate — and maybe have some turkey — before it hosts Boston University this Friday afternoon. 

“I like this team, I like our leadership. I think that when we play with an edge like that … we’re going to continue to grow,” Pikiell said.

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @cgreen204 and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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