Rutgers goes to go 4-0 for first time since 2000-01 season
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell got exactly the kind of performance he insists on from his reserves.
“I’ve never been a starter guy,” Pikiell said after Rutgers defeated Niagara 78-65 on Sunday in the Scarlet Knight Showcase. “I like the finishers. That’s important to me. The way I coach, you gotta be ready.”
Nigel Johnson led the reserves, equaling a career high with 20 points in helping Rutgers go 4-0 for the first time since the 2000-01 season. The Knights bench outscored Niagara 42-3.
Other non-starter contributors were Mike Williams (12 points), CJ Gettys (eight points and eight rebounds), Eugene Omoruyi (six points, four rebounds and two assists) and Candido Sanders (four blocks).
With Rutgers trailing 42-41, Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 14:32 remaining for the third and final lead change. The Knights scored 16 straight for a 57-42 lead, and opened their biggest advantage at 70-51.
“After we went on that run we created a little distance in our lead,” Johnson said. “I felt like we did a good job closing the game and that was what we were focused on.”
Matt Scott had 30 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Purple Eagles, who are 0-4 for the first time since starting with six straight losses in the 1989-90 season. Kahlil Dukes had 12 points and Marvin Prochet 11.
“If you’re around (Scott) every day, you just watch how he’s blossoming,” Niagara coach Chris Casey said. “It’s fun to watch. He’s blossoming as a player, as a person, as a student. His work ethic is off the charts.”
Niagara: The Purple Eagles held a 65-44 advantage in bench points in the first three games. The Eagles blocked nine shots, which equaled their combined total in the first three games.
Rutgers: Pikiell became the first Scarlet Knights men’s coach to begin his tenure 4-0 and Rutgers’ defense has been a major reason. Rutgers has allowed an average of 61.7 points per game and opponents are shooting 36.3 percent (84 of 231) against the Knights. Rutgers blocked 11 Purple Eagles shots. Rutgers has won four straight for the first time since 2012-13 when it won five in a row in December.
Collins felt his young team “did some things out of character” during Rutgers decisive run, but was still happy with the way it continues to battle. “I thought our guys competed extremely hard, I thought we did some very good things in the game, and we’ve got to use this to build on, move forward onto the next game.”
Entering Sunday’s game, the record of Rutgers’ first four opponents was a combined 2-9. To Pikiell’s credit, he is not getting carried away with his start. Asked the significance of 4-0, the coach said “Nothing. We have to start working for the next game, these guys know we have a long week ahead of us.”
There were four technical fouls called, three on Rutgers with two of them on point guard Corey Sanders, who was ejected with 7:01 left.
WELCOME TO NJ
The Purple Hawks made their first appearance at Rutgers. Niagara won the only other meeting between the two, 73-61, on Dec. 18, 1969.
Niagara: After three straight on the road, the Purple Eagles have their first home game since opening-night when they host Drexel on Wednesday.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights host North Texas Wednesday and will attempt to start 5-0 for the first time since 2000-01, when they opened the season with six straight home games.