This game scared the living daylights out of me since the summer, when it was announced as part of the non-conference schedule. It worried me even more after seeing FDU give Ohio State all they could handle in Columbus, losing by single digits. For much of the first half, my fears were justified, as FDU was off to a hot start and shooting over 50% from the field. The professor, Jerry Carino, agreed.
Finally getting healthy, FDU is much better than its 2-7 record would attest. Might be the 2nd-best team RU has faced so far. They lead by 2— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) December 15, 2016
However, Rutgers increased their defensive intensity in the final seven minutes, forcing FDU into 2-11 shooting from the field and 0-3 from behind the arc, after starting 4-8 from three-point range. Rutgers kept attacking the rim and finished the half 4-8 from the field before the break.
The tide really turned with 4 minutes left in the half, when FDU took a 32-30 lead and head coach Steve Pikiell called a timeout. He has proven early on this season that he knows exactly when to use them and it worked to perfection, as Rutgers closed out the half with an 8-0 run and led 38-32 at the intermission.
After the break, FDU looked refreshed and came out swinging, with leading scorer Darian Anderson hitting a three that cut the lead to 1 point less than 2 minutes into the second half. Deshawn Freeman picked up his 3rd foul right before and it was obvious this would be a battle the rest of the way. Back and forth this game went, with Rutgers slowly but surely stretching the lead to 70-63 with 5 minutes left to play. Then FDU made two mental errors and fell apart.
Deshawn Freeman, who was an absolute monster on the boards tonight, had the ball near the rim and took a vicious elbow to the throat and fell to the ground. A flagrant foul was called on Mike Holloway of FDU, as well as an unsportsmanlike call on star Darian Anderson, giving Rutgers four free throws and the ball. Mike Williams netted three and freshman Eugene Omoruyi finished with a putback on an offensive board, stretching the lead to 12. Rutgers never relented from there, pulling out a 82-69 victory over the defending Northeast conference champions.
It was a tremendous team effort tonight. Coaching was a major part of the win as well, as FDU clawed, scratched, and fought the entire game. However, depth was an issue for them, as their starters played big minutes and Pikiell exploited it, rotating ten players all night long. It paid off in multiple ways, as Rutgers got solid contributions from almost every player who saw time and FDU wore down the last ten minutes of the game. Pikiell managed the game like the veteran coach that he is and got great effort from his bench.
They did a great job attacking the rim and scored 50 points in the paint, while shooting 52% from the field for the game. Rutgers was led in scoring by Corey Sanders and Mike Williams, both of whom finished with 15 points. Williams continued his steady play this season, grabbing two key offensive rebounds and making 2 of 4 attempts from three-point range. Sanders flashed his athleticism and got good shots near the rim, while playing under control and finishing strong in traffic. Oh, and it turns out he played with strep throat and was in the hospital last night. What a warrior!
The frontcourt had a balanced effort, led by CJ Gettys, who had 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. His passing for a big man is just so good and he is unselfish too. Deshawn Freeman scored just 6 points, but grabbed a baker’s dozen on the boards and stared down the FDU bench after the flagrant foul late in the game.
Rutgers finished with a +12 rebounding margin and had five players with 4 or more boards in the game. Another positive development was the play of Candido Sa off the bench, who scored 11 points, including making 2 of 2 shots from behind the arc. He also grabbed four offensive rebounds. Shaq Doorson and Eugene Omoruyi had some nice moments off the bench as well. It was great to see so many players contribute in a positive way.
Rutgers had another bad night from the free throw line, making just 14 of 29 attempts. Nigel Johnson, who went 6-6 down the stretch in the win over Stony Brook, missed all five of his attempts tonight. However, in the first start of his Rutgers career, he was sound at the point and dished out 7 assists to go along with 8 points.
Rutgers is 10-1 my friends. Say that again. Yes, the strength of schedule is pretty weak, but what a difference a year makes. Scratch that, what a difference a coach makes, as Pikiell is proving what a solid leader he is with this team. His in-game decisions are on point and he seems to have a real pulse on his players, knowing how to get the most out of them right when the team needs it. This team is learning how to win and close out games. Next up is Fordham at Madison Square Garden in a Sunday matinee.