By Kevin Sweeney
The Steve Pikiell era has begun better than anyone could have ever hoped.
In his first season with the Scarlet Knights after a highly successful run at Stony Brook, Pikiell has now led Rutgers to a 10-1 record, its best start since 1975. Tonight’s win, an 82-69 triumph over NEC preseason favorites Fairleigh Dickinson, once again demonstrated how far the Scarlet Knights have come in Pikiell’s short time as head coach.
Rutgers used a balanced scoring attack and good defense, a Pikiell staple, to comfortably knock off an FDU team with a potent offense and a lot of talent.
In the opening half, the game was neck and neck, as pesky Fairleigh Dickinson had an answer for every Rutgers push for control. After a pair of runs by the Scarlet Knights pushed the home team to a 22-15 advantage, FDU responded with an 8-2 run to get back within one. However, Rutgers was able to use their size advantage down low to maintain a small lead, scoring 30 of the team’s 38 first half points in the paint. Redshirt junior forward Deshawn Freeman dominated the glass, posting 10 rebounds in the first half. After a Mike Holloway layup for FDU gave them a 32-30 lead with 4:07 to play in the half, Rutgers finished the half on an 8-0 run to take a 38-32 lead into halftime.
The second half was when Rutgers began to gain separation. A layup by sophomore star Corey Sanders, who had 15 points in the game, gave the Scarlet Knights a 56-46 lead with 12:19 to play in the game. The game seemed to be getting out of control, but Fairleigh Dickinson continued to hang tough and gave the Scarlet Knights all they could handle. Rutgers continued to maintain control though, as Mike Williams gave them a huge boost with 11 second half points off the bench.
Sparks flew as the game entered its final stretch, as Holloway was ejected with 4:36 to go in the game for hitting Freeman in the face while taking the ball to the basket.
That did not change the momentum in the game. The Scarlet Knights carried a double-digit lead into the final media timeout and comfortably walked away with an 8th straight home win to start the season.
Sanders and Williams finished with 15 points for the Scarlet Knights, while C.J. Gettys posted 12 points and 8 rebounds and Candido Sa had 11 points off the bench. Darian Anderson continued his strong play for Fairleigh Dickinson, as the NEC POY candidate posted 22 points. Holloway added 14 points and 8 rebounds for FDU.
While it’s unclear whether Rutgers is truly an NCAA Tournament contender, the Rutgers team is clearly much more competitive than it was a season ago. They have an excellent chance of breaking the .500 mark for the first time since the 2005-2006 season.
Fairleigh Dickinson continues to struggle, losing their 6th straight. However, they have played a difficult schedule and should be a top team in the MEAC once again.