This was the performance we were looking for from Rutgers, utter domination of their opponent, as they defeated Central Connecticut State 79-37. That hadn’t happened once in their seven wins entering tonight’s game, but it has now. Don’t misunderstand, CCSU is not a good basketball team and entered the game with a KenPom ranking of #337 out of 351 Division I teams. Even so, Rutgers needed this type of performance, as the schedule increases in difficulty from here on out.
It was without a doubt, the best played half of the season for the Scarlet Knights in the opening frame of this game. After struggling in the first half against inferior opponents leading up to tonight, they did a great job of pounding the ball inside and dominating the interior. Rutgers shot 60% from the field in the first half and produced 14 assists on 19 field goals. There were a bunch of dunks and easy baskets in the paint. They also committed just 5 turnovers and forced 11 from CCSU, who shot a poor 26% from the field. Oh, and did I mention there were a bunch of dunks, highlighted by this stretch near the end of the half.
It was much of the same in the second half and the tone was set from the start for Rutgers on the offensive end by the self-proclaimed “ghost gang” in the frontcourt, forward Deshawn Freeman and center CJ Gettys. They were virtually unstoppable all night. Freeman had a stat line 12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 assists, while Gettys had 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. The duo shot a combined 11-13 from the field and Freeman was a perfect 6-6 in the game.
Guard play was excellent as well, as Nigel Johnson led the team with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists. Backcourt mate Corey Sanders was right behind him, scoring 14 points and he swiped 5 steals along with 3 assists. Both players shot 6-9 from the field on the night. While Mike Williams was 0-2 from behind the arc, he still chipped in with a solid 8 points and led the team with 7 assists, a career high.
As a team, Rutgers compiled 24 assists on 35 made field goals, which was a result of unselfish play and great team basketball. Rutgers shot an insane 65% from the field for the game and 40% from three-point range. An encouraging sign happened late in the contest, as freshman wing Issa Thiam broke a 2+ game scoreless streak with back to back baskets from behind the arc. He needed those badly and hopefully will get back on track after a solid start to the season.
On the defensive end, Rutgers was thwarting CCSU on what seemed like every possession, holding them to a horrid 25% shooting from the field, including 17% from three-point range on 17 attempts. For the game, CCSU committed 22 turnovers.
It was also great to see the end of the bench get a few minutes of action near the conclusion of the game. Their defensive effort was strong as well and their contributions in practice were lauded by radio announcers Jerry Recco and Joe Boylan. Walk-on players like Jake Dadika and Khalil Batie are invaluable to any program, but especially one that is rebuilding like Rutgers.
Overall, it was a great team win and an impressive performance from Rutgers. Recco and Boylan talked on the air about what a great job the team did in executing what they practiced the day before. They made a point to go inside early and often, which paid off in a big way. While it’s unlikely Rutgers will have similar success in the paint in Big Ten play, they needed this type of result to build confidence. This team is no doubt a work in progress, but progress is certainly being made. Rutgers sits at 8-1 in early December, after winning just 7 games a season ago.
Next up is Stony Brook on the road on Saturday night, as Pikiell returns to the program he built from scratch. He has his current rebuilding project firing on all cylinders ahead of his reunion.