PISCATAWAY — The focus entering Rutgers’ Tuesday night bout with Fordham was all on Corey Sanders and the junior guard’s journey to 1,000 career points. It took longer than most expected, but he reached the mark with 50 seconds to go until halftime.
The milestone was a cool moment and we’ll have more about it in Fonseca’s Four Observations below, but first, something more important which got lost in the hype — the actual basketball game.
Rutgers led the Rams for the final 37 minutes of play, overcoming some hot shooting from Ivan Raut and some sloppy play on their part to take a 75-63 victory.
The Scarlet Knights won the game inside thanks to some dominant displays from their big men. Deshawn Freeman led his team with 14 points, but he wasn’t alone in his dominance. Candido Sa broke out with a season-high 10 points along with four rebounds in 16 minutes of what was some of his best basketball on the Banks.
Rutgers finished with 46 points in the paint and easily won the battle of the boards (45-27).
Rutgers led by as much as 22 with six minutes to go, only for Fordham to rip through a 13-0 run to cut the lead to nine. In the end, though, the result was never really in doubt.
The second straight win gives the Scarlet Knights some momentum headed into this weekend’s Garden State Hardwood Classic against rival No. 15 Seton Hall.
Fonseca’s Four Observations:
1) 1kPG hits 1K
The moment was anticipated since Sanders finished three points shy of 1,000 career point in a win over Fairleigh-Dickinson last Saturday. After a lackluster start featuring four turnovers and uncharacteristically passive play through 17 minutes, the junior guard did what he does best and attacked the basket. The ball went up and in, Rutgers called a timeout and Sanders got a standing ovation from the (alleged) 3,389 fans who made their way to the Rutgers Athletic Center Tuesday.
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
Sanders finished with 12 points, five assists, five rebounds, three steals and a gorgeous, flying block on a Joseph Chartouny for good measure, all before he fouled out with 1:47 remaining in the contest.
“It just feels good, man,” Sanders said. “Coming from where I come from, even making to college (is an accomplishment), then chasing your dreams. Reaching 1,000 points so fast, it’s something i’ve always dreamed of doing. (His best friend) Dwayne (Bacon) did it last year at Florida State, he beat me to the punch, but I got it this year. I’m happy to get the win and get the 1,000 points, so it’s pretty cool.
In case you missed it, we chronicled Sanders journey to the milestone, as well as his best moments on the Banks ahead of his latest achievement.
2) Candido Sa Breaks Out
Candido Sa had his best performance to date as a Scarlet Knight against the Rams. The JUCO transfer from San Jacinto (Tx.) scored nearly as many points against Fordham (10) than he did against the first 10 opponents he faced in 2017 (11), and he did so with a perfect 4-for-4 clip.
Along with the scoring, Sa contributed a steady defensive performance with three rebounds, a block and a steal. Often pitted against a guard given the ball-screen heavy offense Fordham ran when he was on the floor, Sa held his own on the perimeter.
“Tremendous. Candido gave us a great lift,” Pikiell said. “I think he’s in the training room right now, he should be up here with these guys too. He plugged away and he’s a good defender too. This was a game that was a little more suited for him because he could chase around some of those smaller players. He gave us a huge lift. He works every day, he plugs away at it and he’s always ready when he’s called on. So, glad to see the ball go in today for him too.”
Sa’s emergence comes at a perfect time for Rutgers as its prepares to host in-state rivals No. 15 Seton Hall, who sport one of the nation’s top bigs in Angel Delgado. Pikiell needs all of his bigs playing their best to contain the Dominican double-double machine.
3) Strange Sequence:
In what was easily one of the strangest sequences I’ve ever seen in a basketball game, Fordham got two consecutive four-point plays.
Yes, you read that right — the Rams hit two three pointers while getting fouled on two straight trips down the floor. They nailed both free throw attempts.
The chain of events cut Rutgers lead to 28-26 with four minutes to go until the half, but in the end, it made no difference. The two point differential was the closest Fordham came to retaking the lead all night.
“I haven’t, no,” Pikiell said when asked about the sequence. “I didn’t like seeing it with my team. But, we usually do a really good job defending the three without fouling. It’s one of the things we teach. They got two plays and they knocked it down to their credit. So, it happens in a basketball game, you just don’t see it twice in a row.”
Despite its ultimate insignificance, it simply had to be noted for its absurdity.
For the first time since the second game of the Steve Pikiell Era, Rutgers saw six players reach double-digit scoring. Sanders, Sa, Freeman, Geo Baker, Issa Thiam and Mike Williams all his double figures.
Coincidentally, the last game is happened (November 13th, 2016 against Drexel) was Sa’s best career game. He finished that night with 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
“I love that stat,” Pikiell said. “Everyone had their moment. Corey had some moments that took over the game. Mike had some huge plays down that key stretch. Issa had plays. Everyone kind of chipped in and did what they needed to do in the game today. So, six guys in double figures, I don’t know if that’s happened here in a long time. Drexel, last year? Ok, long time ago. That was one of my first games. A good day by us today and a good day of sharing the ball. We talk a lot about that. These guys are doing a good job of finding open men and their defense is different. So, you really have to do a good job. You can see we got layups once we really shared the ball, too.”
For Dave White’s Four Thoughts, click here.