It has been a rough start to the season with Rutgers mired in a four game losing streak, entering tonight's game with a 3-5 record. However, this team is so young and still has a lot to learn. Rutgers struggled to separate from Central Connecticut State in the first half, heading to the locker room with just a 28-25 lead. They came out in the second half and controlled the pace of the game, going on a 25-13 run to lead 53-38 with 8 minutes to play. After CC State hit a three-pointer, Corey Sanders answered with his own make from long range and Rutgers sailed to an easy victory with a dominant second half performance.
Sanders had his best performance in a Rutgers uniform and was clearly the best player on the floor. He scored 18 points on 7-9 shooting, including a stellar effort from the three-point line, going 4-4 from long range. In addition, Sanders registered 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals. He seems to get better every game and is living up to the hype just nine games into the season.
Another freshman that had a huge night was Jonathan Laurent, who continued his rapid development with his best performance at Rutgers. Laurent scored a career-high 15 points on 6-10 from the field and was 2-4 from long range. He earned high praise from play-by-play announcer and former Rutgers coach Bob Wenzel, who raved about his athleticism and declared him Big Ten ready. As difficult as the start of this season has been, every Rutgers fan should be drooling over the potential of Sanders and Laurent. They are a pair of ultra athletic, highlight reel players who play full throttle at all times.
Rutgers desperately needed Bishop Daniels to snap out of his recent funk and he came out ready to play. Daniels played a complete game, scoring 17 points on 7-12 shooting, along with 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. He has been all or nothing this season, putting up big numbers in multiple categories when he scores, and barely cracking the stat sheet when he doesn't. That is a problem for another day, as it was good to see Daniels smiling on the court and having fun.
As a team, Rutgers shot the ball the best it has all season. They shot 49% from the field, 46% from three-point range and 77% from the free throw line. Let's not confuse the Blue Devils defense with Duke, but it was encouraging to see Rutgers shoot well after Saturday's debacle. Another positive was 18 assists as a team, although they still committed double digit turnovers with 12. Overall, the bench outscored the starters 38-37, as Ibrahima Diallo contributed 6 points along with the double digit efforts of Daniels and Laurent. Team defense was better as well, holding CC State to just 38% shooting from the field.
A win is a win and the losing streak is now over. Rutgers sits at 4-5 with two difficult games ahead. This Saturday they travel to D.C. to play George Washington, who are 8-1 with wins over Virginia, Seton Hall and Penn State. After a week off, Rutgers plays local upstart Monmouth, who own wins over UCLA, USC and Notre Dame.
Regardless, the future of Rutgers basketball was on full display tonight and everyone should be encouraged by the development of Sanders and Laurent. Stars in the making! Let's not forget about sophomores Mike Williams (7 points, 6 rebounds) and D.J. Foreman (10 points, 7 rebounds), who have had their own moments in this young season. This core four is the key to Eddie Jordan and staff lifting Rutgers out of the dark basement and into the light. Performances likes this one will be more common in the future, but for now, let's enjoy tonight's victory!