Whatever happened in the locker room at halftime, however, turned things around quickly and fueled an electric defensive effort in the second half and an eventual 91-75 win.
"We turned the game to our speed," said head coach Mike Rice. "It was our level of game, our level of athleticism and we need our athleticism and depth."
Trailing the Pioneers at halftime, the Scarlet Knights rallied off five points in the first minute. Out of nowhere, Sacred Heart could not go more than two dribbles without turning the ball over.
Between travels, bad passes and a 10-second violation, Rutgers forced eight turnovers in the first four minutes and went on a 22-4 run.
"I feel like at one point, everybody just started to play hard," said junior Dane Miller, who led the defensive assault in the second half. "The harder we played, the more focused we got and we came out with the W."
Forward Gilvydas Biruta put the exclamation-mark on the second-half run with an alley-oop slam at the 14-minute mark. The sophomore's powerful slam-dunk gave Rutgers a 15-point lead and the team took care of business from there.
The Pioneers had one final bite in them, cutting the lead to as little as six points, but were a possession away from ever putting the game back into question.
The Scarlet Knights forced 23 total turnovers on the night after forcing just 10 in a Tuesday loss to Miami.
Six Rutgers players finished in double figures, including a game-best 17 from freshman guard Jerome Seagears off the bench. Biruta, Miller and guards Myles Mack, Elijah Carter and Mike Poole also scored 10 or more points in a balanced second-half attack.
"It was just a great thing for us to come together as a unit and finally get to playing together as a team," Seagears said. "... I think it's about that time for us to succeed."
Rutgers looked like the same team that struggled against Miami in the first half. Between missed shots and turnovers, the team trailed by as many as eight points in the half.
Steals and easy looks at the basket by guards Myles Mack and Elijah Carter erased the Rutgers deficit just before half, but Sacred Heart still managed to go into the locker-room with a three-point lead.
"I challenged our two upperclassmen in our pregame talk," Rice said. "I thought their actions were too silent. I thought they were too passive with how they handled freshmen, how they were handling their junior season. ... The second half, I don't know what clicked, but they certainly played like upperclassmen."
Tonight's victory marked the first leg of the Cancun Challenge. Part 2 comes Sunday at home against Hampton before Rutgers heads to Cancun to play Illinois State and the winner of Illinois and Richmond.