Lessons are better learned after victories. And while Rutgers basketball has plenty of studying assigned after a sloppy 78-65 victory over winless Niagra, it comes on the heels of four in a row.
Rutgers is 4-0 for the first time in 16 years, and Steve Pikiell is the first coach in school history to do so in his inaugural season.
“We as a team, we have to stop referring the game,” Pikiell said. “Corey [Sanders] and everybody has to play basketball. We're not refs. When you try to ref, you're going to get in trouble.”
The lessons start with a frustrated Corey Sanders, who picked up two technical fouls and an ejection after another inconstant game. Sanders' ejection, with seven minutes to play, energized Rutgers to a solid finish behind Nigel Johnson's team-high 20 points. Sanders was not available after the game for comment.
“I just knew since Corey was in the locker room, I was the only real point guard left,” Johnson said. “I just had to control the game. We were playing with a lead, so we didn't really have to force anything on offense. I just figured we could slow it down a little bit, which I feel I could have done better.”
Depth saved Rutgers during the stressful minutes of action. With guards Johnson and Mike Williams as leaders yet again, Rutgers outscored Niagra 42-3 in bench points.
“I'm comfortable,” said freshman Eugene Omoruyi, who gave six points and four boards off the bench. “I look up to Jon [Laurent] and DeShawn [Freeman]. They push me a lot. They keep me in the loop and always make sure I'm doing the right thing. It's been really good.”
Rutgers (4-0) and its “night and day” transformation in the paint continued against Niagra. The Scarlet Knights owned the interior yet again with a 47-32 rebounding advantage and 34 points in the paint.
“None,” Pikiell said on the longest winning streak in four years and its significance. “We have to start working for the next game. These guys know it. We've got a long week ahead of us with not a lot of time to prepare.”