Rutgers came to the big city looking to keep the good times rolling, but the game started with a thud. Fordham attacked the paint early and Rutgers missed several shots near the rim, including three in a row by Deshawn Freeman. That led to head coach Steve Pikiell calling a timeout just three minutes into the game with his team trailing 8-2.
While the team responded out of the timeout with a Candido Sa dunk and a Corey Sanders three-pointer, Fordham took advantage of bad transition defense with back to back layups and led 12-10 with 11+ minutes to play in the first half. However, a familiar spark off bench, along with a key coaching adjustment, provided the lift Rutgers needed to assume control of the game. It wasn’t easy, as Fordham hung around most of the second half, but the Scarlet Knights depth and interior scoring proved too much, winning the game 68-53.
Mike Williams has been excellent off the bench all season and today was no exception. He put together his own 5 point spurt, attacking the rim through traffic for a tough basket and followed with a big shot from behind the arc. It was the key moments of an 11-2 run that gave Rutgers a 21-14 lead at the under-8 timeout. They never relented the lead the rest of the game.
Pikiell switching to a 2-3 zone on defense at times was also a major factor, as Fordham was no longer able to drive the lane at will, as they did early on in the game. They settled for deep shots that Rutgers contested and it resulted in a 1-12 performance from three-point range in the first half. On the other end of the floor, Rutgers was relentless in attacking the rim and finished the first half shooting 50% from the field. They also dominated the glass, holding an impressive +17 rebounding margin at the break.
Unfortunately, Rutgers started the second half even slower than the first, as Fordham hit two quick shots, forcing another Pikiell timeout. After the Rams hit another three and cut the lead to just six points, it was Williams again who stopped the bleeding with another tough basket in the paint, after just entering the game. Fordham kept coming though and after they hit their third three in five minutes, cutting the lead to 7 points, Williams answered with his own trey from deep. Still, Fordham trailed 45-38 at the under-12 timeout and Rutgers looked out of sync.
Rutgers was finally able to take back control of this game after a bad pass from Jonathan Laurent led to a Fordham fast break, it was Williams who got back and forced the miss. He grabbed the rebound and went the entire length of the floor a layup and foul. He converted the free throw for a huge 3-point play and Rutgers never looked back, as Nigel Johnson hit a big three and despite tweaking his ankle on the make, re-entered the game shortly after. Rutgers shot 4 of 9 from behind the arc for the game, a big improvement.
Rutgers owned the boards like they should have, as Fordham is a terrible rebounding team, averaging just 27 per game entering this contest. Rutgers finished the game with a whopping +29 margin. They also did a good job keeping Fordham off the free throw line, another key in this game. Fordham entered the contest shooting 77% from the charity stripe, but only took just 9 attempts in the game. Fordham also was forcing an average of 20+ turnovers a game coming in, but Rutgers did a decent job of staying under that by committing 17. That's not a good number on most nights and they made some sloppy passes at times, as well as losing handle of the basketball too often, but it didn’t define the game. They also distributed 17 assists as a team.
Mike Williams finished the game with 19 points and 6 rebounds on 7-12 shooting, but his ability to score whenever the game was tight was impeccable. Deshawn Freeman had another double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Nigel Johnson had 11 points, 4 boards, and 3 assists. Corey Sanders stuffed the stat sheet with 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.
It’s one week to Christmas and Rutgers sits with a 11-1 record. This season truly has been “knight and day” from the past couple of years. The schedule has been weaker than Santa Claus the day after the holiday, but Rutgers has taken care of business and that is something they haven’t done in a long time. Now the schedule ramps up considerably, starting with blood rival Seton Hall this Friday on the road.
For postgame quotes and thoughts from coach Pikiell and Mike Williams on this game, the 11-1 start, and Seton Hall up next, click here.