In another month, it will be known whether Rutgers feasted on inferior non-conference opponents only to be run over in Big East play, or whether serious gains were made on the court and the Scarlet Knights can move from the bottom of the conference.
Judging on the latest performance, a 66-42 whipping of St. Peter's in front of 4,362 at the Rutgers Athletic Center on Tuesday, at least there is hope Rutgers is making strides under fourth-year coach Fred Hill.
Sophomore Mike Rosario made 10 of 16 shots and scored a career-high 28 points, senior center Hamady Ndiaye posted a career-high and matched Chuck Weiler's 17-year-old school record by blocking 10 shots and added 15 points, and freshman wing Dane Miller grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and blocked four shots.
"The biggest thing for another team when they have a shot blocker on the court is to go at the shot blocker's body,'' Ndiaye said. "I realized for a long time that when other teams come here, the main way to really score on me is to come right at my body. With that, I learned how to deal with it, and now I know how to maneuver my body, and things like that. It's probably an art.''
Rutgers (9-2) finished with a school-record 18 blocked shots, which was one more field goal than St. Peter's (5-6) scored in shooting 23.3 percent from the field.
The Scarlet Knights also have their first six-game winning streak since 2001.
"We had an outstanding game defensively,'' Hill said. "The guys blocked 18 shots. I don't even know what to say about that. How do you describe that?"
The 7-foot Ndiaye entered the night tied for the national lead in blocked shots with 5.3 per game, and has 25 in his last three games.
"I think you are starting to see a healthy (Ndiaye),'' Hill said. "I don't think people realize last year the extent of his injury. We didn't talk about it very much because he is a warrior, but he had a disc problem.''
"Everybody's grown, and that's what we need,'' Hill said. "I like some of the things we've done. I think there's much, much more room for improvement. We come out and work every day hard in practice. That's what I like about this team.''
At least the Scarlet Knights are heading to Chapel Hill, N.C., off their best defensive effort of the season.
St. Peter's leading scorer Wesley Jenkins, who was averaging 14.7 points per game, was held to 1 of 17 shooting and four points. Nick Leon, who was averaging 12.3 points per game, finished with six points on 3 of 12 shooting.
"I think our team defense was very good, and it started off with me and (Mike) Coburn, (guarding) the two high scorers on their team,'' Rosario said. "I knew once me and Coburn tried to take them out of the game, we had to let somebody else beat us. …The key was to take those two guys out of the game early.
"I really think by me and Mike playing defense, offense was feeding off to me and I was making shots.''
St. Peters, which was led by Steven Samuel's 14 points, was never in it.
Rosario and Ndiaye combined for Rutgers' first 16 points and helped the Scarlet Knights build a 16-4 lead less than nine minutes in. St. Peter's missed 8 of its first 11 shots and never got closer than six points in the first half.
In a dominating second half, Rutgers built a 65-34 lead with 3:27 to play before Hill emptied his bench.
"(The defense) was outstanding, I think, for the first time for 40 minutes,'' Hill said. "I don't know what to say about it, other than to say it was outstanding. Leon and Jenkins are two really good guards, and they can really score. I think that is where it really started.''