Rutgers to take on struggling NJIT team in Tuesday night matchup
The Rutgers men’s basketball team extended its strong start to the season with a win against Stephen F. Austin.
The Scarlet Knights (4-1) pulled away late after being in command for the majority of the game. The Lumberjacks (4-1) suffered their first loss at the hands of Rutgers. Players on the Knights, such as sophomore guard Caleb McConnell (16 points), graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah (11 points) and junior guard Geo Baker (11 points), all contributed to the win.
The next game up for Rutgers is New Jersey neighbor, NJIT. The Highlanders (2-4) have struggled to start the season. Dropping its last two games, the team will come to Piscataway a little bit rusty.
NJIT previously matched up with Brown, ultimately losing by double digits (79-63). The Bears (4-1) took advantage of the Highlanders' below-average perimeter defense by shooting 9-of-15 from three-point range. Brown also dominated the glass in the matchup by out-rebounding NJIT 40-26.
The silver lining for the Highlanders seems to be Zach Cooks. The 5-foot-9-inch guard exemplifies heart more than height by averaging 25.5 points against the Bears, his season high being 35 in a loss against Binghamton. Coming fresh off a 30-point performance against Brown, expect Cooks to come out as NJIT’s go-to-guy against the Knights.
It is also worth noting that Souleymane Diakite is coming off a stellar defensive performance against the Bears. He tallied nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals against the Ivy League school. Expect him to be active on the defensive end against Rutgers.
The Knights exemplified their defensive capabilities against Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks have been a tournament team in recent history, making the NCAA Tournament a total of four times in the past decade. The way Rutgers was prepared for them is something worth noting.
Major credit goes to head coach Steve Pikiell for having his men ready. The Knights held Stephen F. Austin to 31.5 points below its season-scoring average (88.5). The Lumberjacks made 2 three-pointers, the fewest by a Rutgers opponent since Wisconsin went 2-of-13 from beyond the arc in 2018.
Sophomore center Myles Johnson also had a dominating game defensively. He finished the game with four blocks (a career high) and lead the team in rebounding with eight boards.
The Knights never trailed Stephen F. Austin for the entirety of the game. This is the second time this year that the program has achieved this feat, with its first coming against Niagara. Staying in command in games against NCAA Tournament teams is undoubtedly important in college basketball.
When Yeboah is in the game, the team has a sense of veteran leadership and poise. Having him in late in the games has resulted in good things. Pikiell had a lot to say on Yeboah’s leadership.
"He had two great practices leading up to this. He's mature, he really brings that steadiness. He's a good foul shooter too," Pikiell said. "He's got good poise. He's been in a lot of games — just a huge addition for us maturity-wise and basketball-wise. I think he's one of the best shooters too in the Big Ten. So, to have him here and his leadership and his maturity — it really helps our team a great deal."
Pikiell has high praise for Yeboah, and it is easy to see that he is grateful to have such an experienced player on his side when Rutgers hits the hardwood.
The Knights' main goal this upcoming game should be to continue dominating defensively. If Rutgers can somehow find a way to shut down Cooks, only good outcomes can result from it.
The Knights look to pick up another win against the Highlanders on Tuesday in the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) at 7 p.m.
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