The Rutgers women’s basketball team has a new set of silverware to eat its Thanksgiving meal with.
The Scarlet Knights (6-1) emerged victorious in the Junkanoo Division of the annual Junkanoo Jam tournament played in Bimini, Bahamas. Rutgers last made the trip to the Bahamas in 2005, when the tournament ended in the same fashion.
Junior guard Arella Guirantes was crowned the division MVP and was named to the Junkanoo Division All-Tournament Team along with junior forward Tekia Mack.
The Knights battled their way past Vanderbilt by a final score of 65-26 in the team's first matchup. The Commodores (5-3) put up a fight the entire game as there were eight lead changes.
The opening frame featured an unimpressive 25% mark on field goals for Rutgers. The frame ended with the Knights trailing 17-8.
During the second quarter, shots began to rain down and the field goal percentage rose to 54%. Rutgers only found success behind the arc twice during the game. Both shots came in the second quarter from graduate student guard Khadaizha “KK” Sanders.
The half ended in what would become a SportsCenter Top 10 play. Sanders won a battle for the ball and tossed up a half court shot that found its home in the basket as the buzzer sounded, sending the Knights into the locker room only down by one.
Mack built off the exciting end of the first half and scored 18 points in the second half, including consecutive baskets to put Rutgers in the lead.
The seesaw game was stabilized only when Mack capped off her 20-point night with a layup and two free throws, both made with less than 35 seconds on the clock.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer pointed to two factors that guided the Knights to victory.
“I thought that we learned from last time we played LSU, and fortunately, we didn’t have as many fouls," Stringer said.
Rutgers got into foul trouble early in its last game with the Tigers (7-1), which plagued the team in its only loss thus far.
The second factor, teamwork on the 55, has been the bread and butter for the Knights this season.
“The 55 in itself is exhausting,” Stringer said. “But what we did is we started the original group and then we very quickly brought another group in. That’s why it was a total team effort.”
After a much-needed break on the beach, Rutgers was back on the floor for the championship game against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets (5-1) came into the championships off a victory against Seton Hall.
The championship matchup proved to be another back and forth game, with the Knights ultimately taking home the trophy in a 46-43 victory.
Guirantes started off the game by scoring 7 points, but Rutgers was held scoreless at the end of the quarter. It ended with a score of 13-11 in favor of Georgia Tech.
The Knights were hit with another quiet streak as they didn’t score for more than 2 minutes. Missed free throws in the second quarter put Rutgers down by 6 points at the break.
Knowing what was on the line, the hero of the day, Guirantes, stepped up and scored 8 points. It was enough to put the Knights on top.
Another quiet streak hit Rutgers in the fourth. It wasn’t until senior center Jordan Wallace scored from the paint that the Knights tied it. Heading into the home stretch with a 2-point lead, Guirantes was able to draw fouls to push the score from 45-43 to 46-43.
Defense was the key to victory in the low scoring game. Guirantes had 10 defensive rebounds to go with the other half of her double-double, 19 points. Junior forward Mael Gilles added six defensive rebounds.
Stringer recognized the slow start to the game.
“We did have a difficult time right from the beginning,” Stringer said. "Plus, I think nerves got to everybody, because we couldn’t remember quite where we needed to go.”
Rutgers comes back to the Banks to face Virginia in a Thursday night matchup. The Cavaliers (4-4) head to UCLA before coming back to the East Coast.
Teamwork is going to have to remain a fixture for the Knights as the season progress and the schedule gets harder.
“It wasn’t falling in the first half but I still trusted them,” Guirantes said. “I knew there were going to pull out something.”