Fairleigh-Dickinson came into the Rutgers Athletic Center hoping to do what seven other teams failed to accomplish this season — beat the home team.
The Rutgers men’s basketball team wasn’t having any of it.
The Scarlet Knights used a 15-7 run early in the second half to pull away from the stubborn Black Knights, turning a closely contested game into their seventh double-digit win at home in 8 attempts.
With that, Rutgers finished the home portion of its non-conference schedule without losing at the RAC for the first time since 2010-11, improving to 10-1 on the season in the process.
“Every game we want to win,” said sophomore guard Corey Sanders, who led the home Knights with 15 points despite being a game-time decision with a strep throat. “When you come to the RAC, we want to send people home saying ‘we don’t want to play this team no more.’”
The Scarlet Knights went on an 8-0 run in the final 4 minutes of the first half, holding FDU without a basket while hitting every other field goal attempt they had to take a 38-32 lead into the locker room.
The second half began much like the game had been until that point, a back-and-forth affair with every basket from one pair of Knights getting answered by the other. Rutgers would take control of the game much earlier in the second period though, going on an 15-7 run out of the under-16 timeout to take its first double-digit lead of the night. FDU would attempt to close the gap for the remainder of the game, only coming as close as four points before the Knights put an end to it all.
The five players who started for the Black Knights each played at least 30 minutes and it showed at the end of the contest.
“I am very very proud of my team,” said Fairleigh-Dickinson head coach Greg Herenda. “They fought hard, but Rutgers was bigger, stronger and tougher tonight."
The game began as a back-and-forth affair and continued trending that way until the final quarter.
Every bucket Rutgers would get would receive a swift response from the visitors, leading to five lead changes and four ties.
The Scarlet Knights reversed an early 2-0 deficit and grow their lead to as much as seven midway through the first half. Rutgers was shooting 58 percent from the floor, using solid ball movement and timely dribbling to beat defenders playing tight man defense. But the visitors wouldn’t let Rutgers off that easy, hanging on using a 50 percent clip from downtown to keep their hosts in reach.
The visiting Knights would capitalize soon after with a 12-4 run out of the under-12 media timeout to retake the lead at 27-25, stopping a streak of five straight buckets from Rutgers while hitting 6-of-8 themselves.
After trading the lead heading into the final media timeout of the half, the home side made sure it stayed on its side.
“That was crucial,” Herenda said. “The same thing happened at Ohio State. We were up five and went in down one. We are playing four minutes each half that costs you games.”
Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell noted Rutgers’ 2-to-1 turnover-to-assist ratio and the fact they outrebounded the opposition once again as positives from the game.
But as per usual fashion, he didn’t put much significance on reaching double-digit wins and improving to 8-0 at the RAC for the first time since 2001— he’s already thinking about facing Fordham at Madison Square Garden Sunday.
“I thought we figured out a way to win the game,” Pikiell said. “We were able to tough out a win, so I’m real pleased with that. We’re on to the next one.”