Rutgers defeats Drexel in home-court rout
Last year, the Rutgers men’s basketball team lost by 19 points to St. John’s, the first defeat in any three-game action under head coach Steve Pikiell.
The Scarlet Knights (3-0) narrowly escaped the same misfortune against Drexel, which they have beaten the previous two meetings. To give some context, Rutgers downed the Dragons (2-1) 95-66 last season at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), a game where the home team drained 14 shots from behind the arc.
On the tail end of a doubleheader at the RAC in front of 6,017 fans, the Knights fought close with Drexel and came out on top: 62-57, their second-slimmest margin of victory of the season.
Pikiell stuck with the same starting five since Rutgers’ first game of the season against Bryant last Thursday, with sophomore center Myles Johnson the lone big man out in the paint.
Sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. once again played the wing role, sliding in as a small forward, while the guard-trio of junior Geo Baker and sophomore guards Caleb McConnell and Montez Mathis dished the ball around the offense.
The Knights controlled a 17-9 lead in the opening 10 minutes, which was a stretch where Mathis converted several layups in transition, to pile points onto the lead.
Mathis, who had scored 11 and 9 points to start the season against Bryant and Niagara, respectively, scored 6 of Rutgers’ 8 points leading up to the first media timeout. The 6-foot-4-inch guard amassed double digits before halftime, leading all scorers with 12 points and missing only two shots in the opening 20 minutes.
Mathis was 1 of 4 Knights’ players who finished in double figures, compiling 12 points. He did not need to think about hoisting a 3-pointer, drilling 5 shots out of 8 attempted.
With that being said, the Dragons made it a close game down to the final frames of the first half and into the second half, clinging to a 1-point lead at the break. Zach Walton led Drexel with 11 points, despite shooting 3-of-10 from the field.
With Johnson in early foul trouble, Pikiell opted to check in senior forward Shaq Carter. On one particular play, junior guard Jacob Young drove inside the paint and kicked the ball inside to Carter, who then drained a jump shot from the charity stripe region. It was his lone score of the game.
From 3-point land, Rutgers struggled, making only four 3-point shots the entire 40 minutes played.
Harper Jr. played tight defense on the wing against Drexel’s Sam Green. After intercepting a pass from Green, Harper Jr. finished in transition on the coast-to-coast dunk. Harper Jr. led the game with 13 points alongside Baker.
The Dragons had a 1-point lead going into the locker rooms at the half, with the Knights making a season-low 10 shots from the floor. Following a stop on defense, graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah fought his way to the rim swarmed by several of the Drexel’s big men, and muscled in a shot to give Rutgers a 3-point lead.
The Knights, who averaged less than 70% from the charity stripe last season, made 20-of-25 from the free throw line. Rutgers shot a perfect 100% in the first half, making all eight of their 1-pointers in the opening 20 minutes.
The team gelled together down the stretch, totaling eight assists. Four of which were from Baker.
Defensively, the Knights were communicating with one another. Because of it, Rutgers was able to lead the Knights to victory.
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