After Rutgers squeaked by Marist 63-61, Fred Hill discussed the heat, which cramped up several of his players.
"Yeah, everybody is cramped, everybody is a little tired," said Hill, 1-0 in year three at the helm of Rutgers men's basketball. "I wish I didn't have to play guys that many minutes, but that's where we are right now. You have to fight through it and we overcame it."
As did Rosario, the Jersey City native, who overcame five turnovers and second-half leg cramps, to score a game-high 17 points, before 4,822 raucous fans, many of whom had stayed for the double header (Earlier, Rutgers women's basketball defeated St. Joseph's 86-59 in their season opener).
"I felt great from the beginning of the game until the end," Rosario said. "I want to thank the fans, they got us going, put trust into this whole game."
What was supposed to be a painless contest against Marist, predicted to finish in the MAAC, almost became painful to watch.
"I'm going to give credit to Marist," Hill said. "They really played very well and they play a unique style which forces you to defend on the ball and they stretch you, which allow them to get running starts for rebounds."
Afterwards, Hill said he preferred some breathing room in the margin of victory category.
"No, I'd like to win by 40," he said. "But I do like that right out of the gate we executed, did the things you need to do to win a tight ballgame."
The inside presences of Hamady N'Diaye and Gregory Echenique owned the Scarlet Knights' defensive lane. N'Diaye manufactured a career-best eight blocks, while freshman Echenique, who also required treatment on the sidelines, halted six others and produced 11 points and 15 rebounds in his collegiate debut.
Meanwhile, sophomore guard Corey Chandler sparked the Knights off the bench. With 14:34 left in the second half, Chandler pump faked defender Kaylen Gregory into an acrobatic, fading layup and the foul. Though he missed the ensuing free throw, Rutgers captured a 38-36 edge with the basket and they never trailed again.
The first half told a different story for Rutgers, which struggled offensively, but held tight defensively.
"In first half, we held them to 25 percent shooting," said Hill, as he reviewed the stat sheet. "That's a great number. You can hold somebody to 25 percent shooting, and we only gave up 26 points, you should be up 10, 12 points."
Yet the Knights overcame the 9-29 slump with a 52-percent shooting margin after the break. Attribute that difference to underclassmen Rosario, Chandler and Earl Pettis, who combined for 23 on 10-21 in the stance.
"We weren't quite in sync and in a flow and they make you play that way," Hill said. I thought defensively we were good. We were ready for what we're going to see."
Hill refused to blame uncomfortable conditions inside the Louis Brown Athletic Center for the cramping and free throws woes (16-30). Yet, Echenique's injury forced Hill to go small, using four guards in the final two minutes.
"I think it was hot in the gym; we played long minutes," he said. "They cramped up and they got a little bit tired. When we went small, I thought our guys did an unbelievable job of executing down the stretch."
The combination of Chandler, Coburn, Rosario and veteran Anthony Farmer solidified the Knights' victory.
"We had four guards on the floor," Hill said. "We don't practice that way, we don't want to play that way, but they did a great job of executing and getting the job done when we were short-handed up front."
Notes: Rosario's 17 points marked the most for a Rutgers freshman in an opener since Charles Jones managed 19 against Manhattan in 1993… Chandler had not played in Monday's exhibition due to personal reasons, but suited up and earned 17 minutes of playing time last night.
"Corey's working his way back in," Hill said. "He had some personal issues that he had to take care of. He's taken care of those things. He worked his way back in and he certainly gave us a spark off the bench the second half. He was certainly able to finish a few times and put pressure on Marist's defense."
Rutgers' 16 blocks tied a team record… The Knights visit Delaware Sunday afternoon as part of the Garden State Challenge.
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