PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell pushed one of his star player’s buttons last game, and it turned out to be the right one.
Corey Sanders responded to his coach calling out his poor practice habits with 18 points and five assists and his backcourt mate Geo Baker had a career-high 29 to lead Rutgers past Bryant 83-54 Tuesday night.
Pikiell benched Sanders against Coppin State saying it was for his star guard’s lack of effort in practice.
“If coach sees that I’m slacking, I want him to do what he did — to push me to be the best I can be,” Sanders said. “And if that means I got to step up and do more, so if he feels like that I wasn’t practicing hard or playing hard I’m glad that he was able to tell me and send a message, so I just have to do better. No questions asked.”
Sanders answered with his play on the court.
Sanders hit a jumper, stole a pass and turned it into a highlight-reel dunk before a fast break, alley-oop layup in a 34-second showcase of athleticism. The 6-0 run made it 24-17 with 10:12 left in the first half before Rutgers (5-0) took a 47-34 lead into the break.
“He made some game changing plays,” Pikiell said. “And also, he gets the crowd into the game, too. He made some big plays for us during those spurts and he can do those things.”
Baker displayed his outside shooting ability, hitting 7 of 10 shots from 3-point range. It was the most 3s made by a Rutgers freshman since Todd Billet had eight against Notre Dame on Jan. 18, 2000.
Despite being known for his outside shooting during his recruitment, Baker had only hit three 3s through the first four games of his career.
“It felt real good,” Baker said. “My teammates kept finding me and yeah, the hoop did look really big and I had some open looks and I’m just happy they went down.”
Bryant (0-4) was led by Ikenna Ndugba, who had 15 points, four assist and three steals.
Bryant coach Tim O’Shea wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort.
“I was disappointed honestly,” he said.
Bryant: The Bulldogs are still searching for their first victory of the season. Fortunately their schedule starts to lighten up for the next couple of weeks after opening at Georgia and N.C. State before hosting Navy.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights continue to feast on inferior opponents. They’ll get one more chance to do that before the schedule starts to ramp up with Florida State coming to Piscataway.
Bryant’s Bosko Kostur was ousted at 9:28 in the first half after receiving a flagrant foul for dead-ball contact.
“Bosko is obviously one of our better players and unfortunately, I call that a self-inflicted mistake getting himself tossed on a flagrant one technical,” O’Shea Said.
Rutgers had 16 blocked shots, the most in a game since the Scarlet Knights had 18 against St. Peter’s, December 22, 2009.
Pikiell turned 50 on game day, and the team celebrated with cupcakes in the locker room afterward. While they were set up to look like a 50, Pikiell told his team it was for improving to 5-0.
“It’s 5-0. That’s what we are,” Pikiell quipped in his press conference. “That’s the most important thing. It’s about these guys wanting to be 5-0.”
Bryant: The Bulldogs are at Hartford on Friday afternoon.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights host East Carolina on Friday afternoon.