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Rutgers captures 4th victory of year over Stephen F. Austin

After suffering its first loss of the season in the James Naismith Classic to St. Bonaventure this past weekend, the Rutgers men’s basketball team took down Stephen F. Austin, 69-57, at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC). Wednesday night’s contest marked the first meeting between the Big Ten and Southland Conference foes.

Facing the Lumberjacks (4-1), who made their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance of the decade in 2018, the Scarlet Knights (4-1) shot 50% from the field, securing their fourth victory at the RAC.

Similar to last week Wednesday’s game against Drexel, Rutgers’ opponent last night clawed its way back to within single digits in certain moments of the game. Stephen F. Austin did this by forcing 13 turnovers while scoring 8 fast break points in transition in the first half.

Active defense from leading scorer Kevon Harris, who had four steals, and Gavin Kensmil’s post play, who grabbed 10 total rebounds, kept the Lumberjacks in the game in the opening 20 minutes.

In the first half, the Knights went on a 15-6 run during the opening 10 minutes, led by a barrage of three-pointers from sophomore guards Ron Harper Jr. and Caleb McConnell. 

McConnell, 1 of 4 sophomores in head coach Steve Pikiell’s starting lineup for the fifth consecutive game, shined on both ends of the floor. 

Offensively, he exceeded graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah with a team-high of 16 points. McConnell had a 3-of-5 shooting night from three-point land. 

Defensively, McConnell grabbed six rebounds from down low while playing the role of a lockdown defender on the wing.

“Going into the game, I knew I was going to be guarding the best player,” McConnell said. “Since I’m guarding the best player, I know my teammates have my back.”

As a team, Rutgers grabbed 34 rebounds, 14 of which were in the first half.

Plagued with some foul trouble this season, sophomore center Myles Johnson had three fouls with less than 16 minutes to go in the game and did not attempt a shot during the whole first half. 

Sophomore forward Mamadou Doucoure saw time in his place when Johnson was not on the court. Off the bench, he played more than 11 minutes.

With that being said, when Johnson was on the court, he grabbed eight rebounds while drawing four fouls. His only point came from the charity stripe.

Junior guard Geo Baker has blocked at least one shot in every game this season. In this game against Stephen F. Austin, his active hands translated into two steals. He had 11 points while making both of his free throws.

Harris was averaging approximately 20 points per game while shooting above 50% from the field during the first four games. He scored 18 points.

The Knights entered their fifth game of the season as one of the nation’s top blocking teams, ranking 17th in the country. They had seven total team blocks, four of which were from Johnson.

True freshman guard Paul Mulcahy ran the point guard position for some stretches and grabbed three rebounds in a strong defensive game. Recruited to the Banks as a pass-first guard, the former Gill St. Bernards star dished out two assists, including one to McConnell under the basket for a wide-open three-pointer.

Rutgers came into its inaugural game against the Lumberjacks shooting below 30% from three-point range as a team. The Knights shot below 40% from three-point range in the second half.

Free throws, like Rutgers’ efforts from behind the arc, proved to be a struggle just like they were last season. The Knights shot 60.7% as a team from the charity stripe, below their average of 67.4% coming into this game.

Scoring points in the paint also was hard to come by for Rutgers. The Lumberjacks maintained a 14-point differential in that aspect.

The Knights will have six days to regroup before taking on in-state rival NJIT, which lost to Binghamton on Wednesday night. UMass rounds out the home schedule on Black Friday.

“They need some time off. Bodies have had quite a stretch here,” Pikiell said. “You gotta get better. It’s a great week to get better … Get ready for the war that’s ahead of us.”

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

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