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Rutgers men's basketball defeats NJIT in NJ showdown

Senior guard Geo Baker scored 19 points as the Rutgers men’s basketball team defeated NJIT 75-61.  – Photo by Olivia Thiel

The Rutgers men’s basketball team defeated NJIT 75-61 tonight to remain undefeated on the young season. The Scarlet Knights (3-0, 0-0) recorded their season-high in points thanks in large part to a 43-point second half effort.

Similar to the program’s first two opponents, the Highlanders (1-2, 0-0) made life difficult for Rutgers in the first half and ultimately took a 1-point lead into halftime behind seven made three-pointers. It was the third consecutive game the program trailed entering halftime.

After the close first half, the second half saw the Knights build up a lead and take control of the game. By the time the game reached the final 10 minutes of action, Rutgers had gone on a 20-4 run and had taken a 59-45 lead.

In the remaining time, the Highlanders would cut the lead to as close as 6 points with approximately six minutes to go, but they would never get closer as the Knights were able to close out the victory.

“We know now if we're down at half that we can win any game that we play, so we certainly have figured that out,” said head men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell after the game. “In the second half today we really started defending basketball the way we’re supposed to and rebounded well and then the ball started going in.”

Rutgers received strong performances from senior guards Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. in the win. Harper Jr. led the team with 20 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in his third straight double-double to open the season. Baker followed close behind with 19 points on 80 percent shooting and a team-high four assists.

In particular, Baker was able to get in a rhythm early in the game. The Derry, New Hampshire native scored 7 of his first 8 shots and scored 17 points in the first half on the way to his highest-scoring non-conference game in two seasons.

“(Baker and Harper Jr.) really had it going,” Pikiell said. “(Baker) had a great stretch there. When those two guys are scoring, we’re tough. (Harper Jr.) was going downhill in the second half to get to the rim and posting up and doing the things he can do around the basket.”

Dylan O’Hearn matched Harper Jr. for the game-high in points with 20 points and four three-pointers while Miles Coleman and Antwuan Butler joined O’Hearn in double figures. Meanwhile, the Knights outscored the Highlanders 38-18 in the paint and held a 14-4 advantage in points-off-turnovers. 

The Highlanders finished the game with 11 three-pointers compared to only five for Rutgers. Despite the three-point disparity, the Knights ended up exceeding NJIT in field goal percentage for the game.

Rutgers will now hit the road for the first time this season to take on DePaul. The game will tip off at 8:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1.

“I credit (NJIT head coach Brian Kennedy), that’s a good NJIT team. I liked this second half. I thought we settled down, but we got good looks. We were really good on the glass. We have to get off to better starts but give some credit to NJIT for that too,” Pikiell said. “Now we have to get on the road in a day and start playing some road games so we got to step it up, and have a great day of prep tomorrow and then we're off to Chicago to face DePaul.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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