Hospitalized last night with strep throat and in bed in place of normal pregame routine, Sanders brought one of his best performances of the season to the court in an 82-69 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson.
“After some hours of sleep, I felt a little better and I got some medicine in me,” said Sanders, who tied a season-high with 15 points. “I just felt like I had to pull through for my teammates and stuff like that. There's never a day where I want to go out and not be able to play a game because I was sick. I just made the best of it tonight.”
As if a 10-1 start to the season was not enough motivation, Sanders' relationship with Rutgers director of player development Greg Vetrone fueled him. Vetrone coached FDU for four seasons.
“Today, Shoes brought that up and he told me how he was coaching them for four years and that we had to get this win,” Sanders said. “When I was in the office earlier before shootaround, he was like 'man you're just going to have to pull through.' My grandma even told me, 'you have to go get some medicine in you and go lay down and pull through for this game.' That was just something I had the will, that will in me today.”
Sanders' illness combined with a lack of size for FDU sparked the first lineup change under coach Steve Pikiell. Pikiell ran with Northern Virginian Nigel Johnson over Jonathan Laurent in the backcourt.
Johnson responded with eight points, seven assists and five rebounds in his first start since Kansas State.
“I wanted to flip it a little bit and have another ball handler,” Pikiell said. “Knowing Corey was a little bit under the weather, I look at our guys and Mike is a starter, Candido [Sa] is a starter, that stuff never factors in. I just thought with Corey being a little under the weather and maybe Jon coming off the bench to give us a little bit of a spark. Nigel gave us good minutes, a lot of faith in Jon, too.”
Rutgers rides into Madison Square Garden Sunday against Fordham with its best start to a season in 40 years. The win makes Rutgers undefeated in non-conference home games for the first time since 2010.
“We don't want anybody coming in here and feeling like they can walk out with a win,” Sanders said. “Coach Pikiell said we're going to pack them up and send them back on a bus and tell them that they don't want to come anymore. That's our little slogan right now and we're just trying to keep rolling going into Big Ten play.”
By the way...
The 69 points allowed is the most at home all season for Rutgers basketball.
Candido Sa tied a career-high with 11 points.
CJ Gettys distributed well in the pain with four assists – equal to his career high.
Johnson's seven assists tie a career high.