Behind the most prolific outburst in the sophomore's career, Rutgers put together its first Big East winning streak in two years by defeating St. John's 84-72 in front of 4,608 Tuesday at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Rosario finished with a career-high 33 points, and shed the poor shooting that plagued him the first half of the conference season.
"I actually got hungrier,'' Rosario said. "I just been working even harder in practice …and when you work hard, a lot of good things fall into place for you.''
After shooting 24.8 percent and averaging 10.4 points in the first seven Big East games, Rosario is shooting 56.3 percent and averaging 24.3 points in the last three games. Rutgers (11-11, 2-8 Big East) won the last two.
"He's come a long way,'' Senior center Hamady Ndiaye said. "Even before the game, we kind of joked about it. Right before the game, I told him, ‘I'm not bringing any energy today. I'm not starting it.' And he really started good. That's the kind of kid he is, you have to talk to him and tell him how important he is.''
Ndiaye was finger tip and favorable carom away from making school history with a triple-double, so he settled for 19 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots, the most by a Scarlet Knight in a Big East game.
"I remember four years ago everybody calling (Ndiaye) a project,'' Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "I challenge anybody, if they would have told us, at this point in his career, that he's going to be able to do the things he's doing …I love the kid. He brings unbelievable passion to our team.''
Junior power forward Jonathan Mitchell chipped in 18 points for the Scarlet Knights, who shot 56.4 percent from the field. Rutgers also out-rebounded St. John's 38-28, just the second time in league play it held the advantage.
The Red Storm's free fall continued as it fell behind by double digits in the first half and couldn't climb back. D.J. Kennedy scored a career-high 27 points, but didn't get much help offensively. Sean Evans scored 11 points and Justin Burrell added 10 for the Red Storm (12-9, 2-7), which dropped its fourth straight.
"I think we're trusting each other more, and realizing we're all in this together,'' Mitchell said. "We've figured that out. We were a young team early on, and now we're maturing. We're finally buying into defense wins games, and rebounding wins games. Now, it's fun for us.''
Rosario scored 21 points in the first half to help the Scarlet Knights build a 40-29 halftime lead as Rutgers was able to score in transition and move the ball well in the half-court set.
The Scarlet Knights held the double-digit lead much of the second half, but had to sustain one St. John's rally in which their lead was cut to 60-54 on Kennedy's 3-pointer with 7:09 to play.
However, Mitchell responded quickly, hitting a 3-pointer off a feed from James Beatty, and then making a 10-foot jumper to give the Scarlet Knights a 65-55 lead with 5:40 remaining.
"It shows the maturity of our team that we're able to handle runs, and capitalize and go on a run ourselves,'' Mitchell said. "I know (St. John's) coach (Norm) Roberts because he was recruiting me out of high school, and when I was transferring from Florida. He's a hard-nosed, tough guy, and at halftime we heard him from our locker room.''