New-look Rutgers opens season with 74-67 win

Rutgers showed a markedly better offensive flow during Saturday's season-opening 74-67 defeat of Marist at the RAC. Sophomore Patrick Jackson celebrated his first career start with 15 points and sophomore guard Mike Rosario had a team-leading 17 points. It marked the Rutgers debut of five players, including Florida transfer Jonathan Mitchell, who scored nine points and added four rebounds.

The tempo was quicker, the ball movement markedly improved and the deliberate, methodical offense of the last few years was non-existent.

There were also defensive lapses that kept Rutgers from blowing out overmatched Marist, but in the end the re-committed and again joyful Scarlet Knights began the season with a 74-67 win Saturday in front of 4,828 at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Rutgers (1-0) led by 16 points in the second half, and really was not challenged the rest of the way despite the closer-than-looked score.

After having 140 more turnovers than assists last season, the Scarlet Knights had 19 assists (led by Mike Coburn's career-high seven) and turned the ball over 11 times.

"We had 12 assists on 15 baskets in the first half. That's pretty good,'' Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "I thought our ball movement was outstanding from everybody, though. …We made a conscious effort. We're going to run. We're going to share the ball. We're going to play fast.

"What we have to learn how to do is become a pretty good defensive team. That's going to take some time with new guys. If we can get that down, I think we have a chance to be pretty good and exciting to watch.''

Despite five players making their Rutgers debut, it was a pair of returning players who led the victory.

Sophomore guard Mike Rosario, who displayed better shot-taking judgment, scored 17 points and sophomore center Greg Echenique, who had a 101 fever earlier in the day, added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Although senior center Hamady Ndiaye was limited to 11 minutes as he recovers from a hyper-extended knee, he made his mark by blocking six shots.

"The difference maker is Hamady Ndiaye,'' Marist coach Chuck Martin said. "When you have a guy that's 6-feet, 11-inches and is in the top five in blocks nationally, it really makes it difficult for us to score.''

The surprise, though, was the play of sophomore wing Patrick Jackson.

He gained confidence during the Scarlet Knights' summer trip to the Canary Islands, and carried it into the opener while making his first career start.

Jackson, who scored 10 points last season, matched that total by halftime and finished with 15 points. On a squad in need of a third scorer materializing to help Rosario and Echenique, Jackson got off to a roaring start by making 5 of 9 shots, including 3 of 6 from the field.

"I was real relaxed,'' Jackson said. "I felt good in warm-ups, and I felt good the day prior to the game. I was letting it come to me, and if I felt I was open, I was going to shoot.''

The newbies also contributed, fueled by Florida transfer Jonathan Mitchell. The power forward scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds in 31 minutes, but also was a facilitator in moving the ball around the perimeter and keeping the offense flowing.

The Scarlet Knights shot 44.3 percent from the field, below what Hill desires, but there were a multitude of open shots.

"We're going to share the ball,'' Mitchell said. "We all looked to make the extra pass, and make it easy as possible for the next guy to shoot. That's what coach Hill talked about before the game, and hopefully he's satisfied with it.''

Although junior college transfer James Beatty didn't start – that went to Coburn – he still played a solid 18 minutes, scoring seven points and adding four assists.

Freshmen Dane Miller, Austin Johnson and Muhamed Hasani each played in a reserve role, but the messing of the five returners and five new players went better than expected.

"It's coming along better than I expected,'' Jackson said. "I expected us to come out, maybe a little sluggish. I wasn't expecting us to come out hitting on all cylinders.''

However, Hill was not thrilled with Rutgers' defense, particularly late after the Scarlet Knights built a 70-56 lead with 3:45 to play.

Marist, which shot 44.1 percent from the field, trimmed it to 70-63 with 2:30 left as the Red Foxes made a few wide open shots.

"We kind of relaxed a little bit,'' Hill said. "We'll learn how to close out games and get better with that as the season goes on.''

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