After a very long off-season, after all the talk about hope and potential of a better team this season, we finally saw it on the court today. Rutgers moved to 2-0 after a solid 82-70 win over Howard at the RAC this afternoon. Corey Sanders made his much anticipated debut, coming off the bench but assuming control of the offense shortly after. He contributed with 15 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Sanders shot 4-7 from the field and 6-7 from the free throw line, while consistently making entry passes into the lane. He was making crisp passes and fitting them into tight spots. One included an alley oop lob pass to Jonathan Laurent for a dunk. Sanders played under control and with a purpose the entire game, leading the team with 34 minutes played.
In a development that Eddie Jordan has been envisioning since he signed Deshawn Freeman, the JUCO transfer paired well with Sanders, who was looking to feed him in the lane all game. Freeman followed up his 13 point debut on Friday with 17 points on 7-11 shooting, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block. When Freeman wasn't slashing to the basket and scoring near the rim, he was looking to make the extra pass to a teammate for an easier basket. There was one play where Sanders fed Freeman, who then made a bounce pass into Foreman, who finished with a easy layup in the paint. Another time he made a touch pass to Diallo but he was unable to handle it, seemingly surprised by it. Per Jerry Carino, Eddie Jordan had been pairing Sanders and Freeman together in practice drills since the start of preseason. The first sight of them playing together today lent credence to the thought they are the two key players in a brighter future ahead for Rutgers basketball. This is something to be really excited about, as their chemistry will only improve as they become more familiar with each other's game.
Another positive development was the continued improvement of D.J. Foreman, who has physically matured from last season and looks to have a better understanding of his role in the offense. He was a force to be reckoned with down low, scoring 11 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. He also had the highlight of the game, with a monster dunk that led to a three-point play on a pass from Bishop Daniels, giving Rutgers a 67-54 lead.
Rutgers won the rebounding battle with a 42-31 edge, led by senior center Greg Lewis, who had 9 boards. The scoring was balanced with six players having 8 or more points. Laurent followed up a shaky debut on Friday with a solid 8 point, 6 rebound effort. Bishop Daniels bounced back as well, scoring 9 points and 4 assists. He sat for a long period in the first half after Sanders subbed him out. He played more relaxed in the second half, playing next to Sanders in his natural position at 2 spot.
A couple concerns continue to rear their ugly head, as Rutgers struggled again from three-point range, missing their first 12 shot attempts before Sanders and Justin Goode hit a pair late. Rutgers is now 7-30 after two games for a putrid 23%. They also had 20 turnovers for a second consecutive game. While the team played with a purpose on offense, they had trouble at times handling passes in the lane. Three-point shooting and taking care of the basketball are two key areas Rutgers needs to improve on as the season goes on.
Bottom line, this team had a good weekend, starting 2-0 and taking care of business. Eddie continued to mix up the calls on defense, utilizing the 2-3 zone and full-court press throughout today's game. He also tinkered with different rotations. Heading into crunch time with a 7 point lead with 6 minutes to play, Jordan featured a lineup of Sanders, Williams, Laurent, Foreman and Freeman. They went on a 15-6 run that put the game out of reach. With more versatile players at his disposal than ever before, Eddie has to be excited about the possibilities. This team has a long way to go but today signaled they have potential to be a balanced team that can be a tough out in conference play. The next test is Thursday at St. John's, with another chance to prove the doubters wrong.