After jumping out to an 11-2 lead and making the first three attempts of the game behind the arc, two from Geo Baker and one from Issa Thiam, the Rutgers offense came to a grinding halt. The Scarlet Knights fell into a 1 for 9 funk shooting from the floor, as well as missing three straight free throw attempts. Bryant took advantage with a 13-3 run and assumed a 15-14 lead just 8 minutes into the game. After it looked like Rutgers would struggle through another frustrating first half against an inferior opponent, point guard Corey Sanders asserted control of the game, scoring four baskets in a row and Rutgers never looked back.
The backcourt duo of Sanders and Baker was truly dynamic in the first half, combining for 33 points on 13 of 18 shooting from the field. Sanders had 16 points, was pushing the pace in transition and finished strong near the rim the best he has all season. He also added 3 assists and 3 rebounds in the opening frame. On the other hand, Baker showed off his long range stroke in a big way, making 5 of 7 three-point attempts.
The show continued in the second half, as Sanders and Baker completely dictated the action in this game. Good teams have guards that can control the flow of the game and dominate at crucial times. Granted, this performance came against Bryant, an 0-4 team that is a 300+ ranked squad per KenPom, but the way these two played was extremely encouraging. It's clear the chemistry is growing between Sanders and Baker. This is truly an exciting development for Rutgers basketball this season.
Of course, we've seen Sanders play at this level before. It's a great sign that he responded so well since head coach Steve Pikiell sent a message by bringing him off the bench on Sunday in the win over Coppin State. However, it was the effort of Baker that really stood out. It was easily the best performance he has put together in his young Rutgers career. On the night, Baker finished with both a game and career high of 29 points on 10 of 14 shooting from the field, including 7 of 10 from three-point range. He showed what a complete player he is, as he filled out the stat sheet by adding 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Sanders finished with 18 points on 8 of 14 shooting, a team high 5 assists, as well as 4 rebounds and 3 steals. It was a great night for both players and they are becoming a formidable pair in the Rutgers backcourt.
The only other Scarlet Knight to score in double digits was another guard, senior captain Mike Williams, who was solid off the bench again. He finished with 10 points on 5 of 10 shooting and added 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.
As for the rest of the team on offense, it wasn't a great night shooting the basketball. Thankfully, it didn't matter, but it's still noteworthy everyone else shot for just a combined 10 of 30 (33%) from the floor. Everyone besides Geo combined to shoot only 1 of 12 from three-point range and the entire team made just 9 of 16 from the free throw line. However, the struggles were mostly from Eugene Omoruyi (3 of 6) and Shaq Doorson (0 of 3) at the charity strip. However, both of them were solid otherwise, as Omoruyi had 5 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals, while Shaq had 4 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks in the game.
Another positive development in this game is that Rutgers registered 16 blocks and 11 steals in the win over Bryant. The defensive effort also held Bryant to just 31.7% shooting from the floor in the game, although the Bulldogs did make 6 of 14 (42.9%) from behind the arc. However, Rutgers tightened up in the paint and forced Bryant to take difficult, contested shots near the rim. Give Bryant credit, as they made some tough baskets, but they simply didn't have enough on offense to make this a game.
It was the birthday of head coach Steve Pikiell and he has to be pleased with the most complete effort his team has produced so far this season. Rutgers will need to keep working hard and is back at the RAC for a "Black Friday" matinee against East Carolina. After that, things get much more challenging, as Florida State visits the RAC a week from today, before Big Ten play opens against Minnesota and Michigan State. However, on this night, the message is clear. If Rutgers can get the kind of play from its backcourt like it did tonight, as well as a strong defensive effort like we saw in this game, this team will be able to compete against high major and Big Ten opponents. They'll even win its fair share too.
For Dave White’s Four Thoughts on the game, click here.