PISCATAWAY — With 52 seconds remaining in Rutgers bout against Fordham, Corey Sanders attacked the basket like he did hundreds of times before. But this time, it was special.
The junior guard became the 42nd Scarlet Knight in program history to reach 1,000 career points. He then becomes the first Rutgers player to reach the mark since Kadeem Jack in 2015.
Corey Sanders gets a standing ovation after he becomes the 42nd Scarlet Knight to reach 1,000 career points. pic.twitter.com/sFLr8PtQH0— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) December 13, 2017
It took Sanders 72 games across two-and-a-half seasons to achieve the milestone, with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
He went from a highly-touted, four-star recruit who featured as the focal point — the John Wall, if you will — of Eddie Jordan’s Princeton offense and NBA coaching style to a crucial cog in Steve Pikiell’s high-motor, defense-and-rebounding hustle system.
Sanders went from the go-to scoring threat for the Scarlet Knights to sharing the spotlight with Deshawn Freeman his sophomore year and now freshman guard Geo Baker his junior year.
Sanders twice underwent the NBA draft process, changed coaches, had flashes of brilliance and moments of disappointment. He saw the Scarlet Knights suffer a program-record 17-game losing streak his freshman year and led them to their first ever conference road win a year later.
Through it all, Sanders reflects fondly on the time he’s spent on the Banks so far.
“It’s just been a lot,” Sanders told On The Banks after Rutgers crushed Fairleigh-Dickinson Saturday. “I got here, coaching changes, all types of things. Fighting through adversity, players hurt, it just reminds me of the fight. This team is never going to give up, I’m never going to give up and this school is never going to give up. So we’re just a bunch of fighters. It’s been a great coming on three years so I’m just glad to be here. I hope everything pays off.”
Pikiell inherited Sanders when he took over the helm at Rutgers two years ago this April. While he wasn’t around for all 1,000 of the points, he recognizes the magnitude of the milestone.
“One-thousand points is a huge accomplishment,” Pikiell told reporters in a Big Ten teleconference Monday morning. “Obviously, scoring 1,000 points in this conference says a lot about your individual talent and your ability to be a scorer. … Corey has really improved from last year to this year practice-wise. We're moving him around a little bit this year, too, so I think he's figuring out the 2-spot. So I give him a lot of credit for picking up things quickly. ... Real pleased with Corey's progress and I think better days ahead for him, too.''
Sanders was three points shy of the mark in his final six minutes on the floor against FDU, but he didn’t even throw up a shot in the time frame. With the game in hand, Sanders said he didn’t want to force anything.
“They were questioning why I didn’t come up and jack (up a three) in transition,” Sanders said. “I was three away but I’m just going to let it come to me next game. It’s going to be a very exciting moment when it does happen. I’m looking forward to it, but I just didn’t want to rush into it.”
Before the occasion inevitably arrives this Tuesday night against the Rams, let’s take the time to reflect on the other memorable moments of Sanders career on the Banks. In honor of how many points he needs to reach the mark and how many years he’s been in Piscataway, let’s count down his three best.
3) Leading Rutgers to First-Ever Big Ten Road Win Against Penn State
Sanders did a little bit of everything that afternoon in Happy Valley in which the Scarlet Knights defeated Penn State 70-68.
He led Rutgers in scoring with 25 points — he hit four of his five attempts from three and five of his eight attempts from the stripe to get there — picked up six boards and dished four assists. On the other end, Sanders held Penn State’s leading scorer Tony Carr to 3-for-11 shooting, including a strong finish in which he forced an awkward lay-up attempt at the buzzer.
He played 39 minutes that day, but when the final buzzer sounded, he was jumping for joy like he could do it all over again.
2) Game-Winner Against Nebraska
It looked like another one of those games that plagued Rutgers early in the Steve Pikiell era. The Scarlet Knights held a 10-point halftime lead only to watch Nebraska hit four straight shots out of the break to destroy the deficit. Pikiell had yet to win a Big Ten game in six tries, and it looked like the seventh would see the same fate.
Corey Sanders had other plans.
The guard played like a man possessed, scoring 18 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to will Rutgers to victory over the Cornhuskers. He added five rebounds and four assists to one of his finest performances to date.
But while his entire second half was worth noting, this segment is about moments, and none was bigger that day than the final sequence of the game:
Given everything surrounding that shot — it sealed Pikiell’s first Big Ten win, the craziness of Sanders collecting his own rebound after a wild shot attempt, the roar of the RAC crowd resembling the old days, the awesome image of Mike Williams picking Sanders up as he holds his arms up in front of the student section — there is an argument to be made that this is his best moment as a Scarlet Knight.
But it’s not the one he chose.
1.) “Double OT”
When asked to reflect on his favorite moment in a Rutgers uniform, Sanders didn’t hesitate.
“Double OT,” he said.
Any Scarlet Knight fan who stuck through the dark days of Rutgers basketball that were Sanders’ freshman year have ‘Double OT’ (that’s what I’m calling it now, by the way) ingrained in their mind.
For the uninitiated:
In his best performance to date — 39 points on 14-for-33 shooting, 12 assists, eight rebounds, three steals, two turnovers — Sanders carried Rutgers to triple-overtime in a thriller against Illinois. Though the Scarlet Knights ended up on the wrong side of the result, Sanders ended up on the top spot of SportsCenter’s Top Ten plays.
“That’s my biggest game I ever had,” Sanders said. “That was just a great night. I’ll never forget that game. I still got a picture of me on the floor and everybody behind me is up and that’s probably the highlight of my career so far.”
Who knows — maybe that changes Tuesday night when Sanders holds the ball commemorating his 1,000th career point. But for now, Double OT will do.