The Rutgers men’s basketball team keeps climbing the ladder of the college basketball rankings.
After opening the season with wins over Division II Molloy and mid-major program Drexel, the Scarlet Knights defeated Big East foe Depaul 66-59 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, Thursday night to improve to 3-0 on the season.
Rutgers took the pillars with which first-year head coach Steve Pikiell is attempting to build the program on — rebounding and defense — and used them to pull away late in the first half and early in the second.
The Knights outrebounded the Blue Demons 46-27 and held them to below 40 percent from the field, checking off almost all the boxes Pikiell looks for in every game.
The most crucial rebound came with a minute remaining in the contest from Mike Williams, a guard who spent much of last season playing in the front court due to injury.
Williams grabbed one of his team-high 9 rebounds, cleaning a miss from junior guard Nigel Johnson and putting the ball in for two of Rutgers’ 17 second-chance points.
Sophomore point guard Corey Sanders became the third Knight to lead his team in scoring in as many games, putting up 9 of his team-high 15 points in the second half.
His final point came with 36 seconds remaining, an exclamation mark on top of Williams’ dagger layup.
Rutgers’ lead reached as high as 22 points midway through the second half and didn’t dip below double-digits until the final 30 seconds of the game, when 5 quick points from Depaul brought the game closer to a final score closer that doesn’t do the Knights justice.
The Demons stuck tight to Rutgers throughout most of the first half, not allowing the visitors to take a lead larger than 5 points in the first three quarters of the opening frame, but Rutgers was able to take hold of the game following the final media timeout of the period.
The Knights used an 11-2 run to take a 9 point lead that dropped to 7 at the half. Rutgers opened the second half on a 19-6 run to bring the game out of reach of its hosts and was able to assert its tempo throughout most of the second half.
When Depaul appeared poised to make a late comeback, the Knights weathered the storm of a final 17-6 run to hold off their hosts until the buzzer sounded.
The win is Rutgers’ first away from the Rutgers Athletic Center since December 28, 2014, when a buzzer-beater from Myles Mack elevated the Knights over in-state rivals Monmouth, 59-58.
Pikiell became the first Rutgers head coach to start his tenure a perfect 3-0 since Donald S. White in 1945-46. It marks the first time the Knights win their first three games in a season since 2008.