The official start of the Steve Pikiell had a little bit of everything. Big offense, tough defense, crowd energy and just enough headache to make it feel like Rutgers basketball.
A five-point lead against Division II Molloy in the second half quickly turned into a 86-57 blowout when Rutgers found its rhythm.
“It felt good to get back out there and be with a team again," said center CJ Gettys, who scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in his debut. "We worked hard to get to this point, and like coach was saying all week leading up to the game – we were excited to play someone else other than ourselves."
Newly-named captain DeShawn Freeman is back from knee injury with authority – 13 and 10 in his first-career double double.
Freshman Issa Thiam showcased a shooting stroke in his first-career start. The debuting Nigel Johnson woke up the RAC with a highlight dunk while Corey Sanders took a backseat to other scorers with eight assists and two steals.
“From last year, I back-stepped a lot last year,” Freeman said. “This year I'm kind of headed in the right direction. … Since last year, it's been a while. To be back playing, that's real excitement.”
Most importantly, it was the biggest win in a coaching debut for any Rutgers coach.
“We're going to celebrate this moment tonight, and tomorrow we're right back at it in practice for Drexel on Sunday,”said guard Mike Williams, who made five three-pointers off the bench.
And like most Rutgers games, it came with one or two tense moments along the way.
Only ahead by 10 at halftime, Rutgers let Molloy creep back to a two-possession game before a media timeout settled down the players. What followed was an 18-0 run full of press defense, open looks against a soft zone and big plays from big men.
“I think we wore them down,” Pikiell said. “I kept saying to these guys in the timeouts, they're hitting some tough shots so give Molloy credit. Those guys played fearlessly, but I knew they couldn't continue at that pace.”