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Rutgers looks to carry early-season success into game with Niagara

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On the heels of a game Saturday afternoon full of career highs, landmark wins and triple-digit scores against Coppin State, the Rutgers women’s basketball team looks to keep the momentum rolling.

The Scarlet Knights (2-0) will look to start with a 3-0 record for the third consecutive year. Rutgers tips off against Niagara at 6 p.m. at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) for the first half of a doubleheader followed by the men’s contest with Drexel at 8 p.m.

The Purple Eagles (0-2), members of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), haven’t played a Big Ten opponent since their contest with Maryland in 2017 that resulted in a loss. This will be Niagara’s first trip to the Banks since 1995. 

The Eagles are back on the court after losing by 14 points to Buffalo. Emerald Ekpiteta led the team in both points and rebounds with 17 and 11, respectively. Her efforts were aided by several of her teammates as well, including those of Dagny Davidsdottir. Davidsdottir scored a career-high 13 points. 

Niagara has yet to find its shooting rhythm, though. The team is shooting an unimpressive 28% from beyond the arc and 36% from the field. Much more reasonable is its free throw percentage at 82%. 

The Knights’ shooting stat line shows much more overall dependability. They are sitting at 43% for threes and scoring on half of their field goals. They are also 82% from the foul line. 

Tonight’s game is the second of a three-game homestand for Rutgers. Winning on the home court has not been a problem for the Knights as they lost only twice in Piscataway last season. 

The starters will look to cement themselves as the backbone of the team for this season. Included in the starting lineup are three juniors: Forwards Tekia Mack, Mael Gilles and guard Arella Guirantes. Each has proven they can be relied on by scoring 54 of the 80 total points the starting group has produced thus far.

Guirantes will be tasked with performing at a high level as she plays the most minutes on the team. As a result of her ability to do so, Guirantes has been crowned the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Player of the week. Mack has also been honored after being selected Big Ten Player of the Week by College Sports Madness, a website not officially tied to the NCAA. 

The upperclassmen won’t be the only players trying to make their mark early in the season. Freshman guard Joiya Maddox has shown she belongs by nailing 4 of 8 three-pointers against the Eagles. While playing only 9 minutes in the team's first game against South Alabama, Maddox’s skills were on display in her 16 minutes against Coppin State. 

She will need to produce again on Wednesday to show her coaches and teammates that she has a definite future at the Banks. 

Rutgers never stopped pushing regardless of the score in the first two games. That will be key for Wednesday night and the rest of the season as well. If the team continues to never look back in its non-conference games, the momentum will roll over into the Knights' more competitive matchups. 

Despite the score of the last game and a dominant finish in the first game, Rutgers can’t become complacent with early success. The Knights must stay ahead of themselves to keep their success rolling. 

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