PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)Rutgers put together its most dominating Division 1 win under head coach Steve Pikiell, overwhelming Niagara 86-39 on Sunday.
It was the largest margin of victory for Rutgers since Pikiell took over the program in 2016. The Scarlet Knights (2-0) recorded a 79-37 win in Pikiell’s first season, but that occurred against Division 3 Central Connecticut State.
Rutgers was impressive on both ends of the court in Sunday’s wire-to-wire win. It shot 59% from the field, distributed 22 assists on 35 baskets and forced 17 turnovers that led to 26 points.
Geo Baker led the attack with 22 points for Rutgers, scoring 22 points, 17 of them occurring in the second half when the Scarlet Knights outscored Niagara 47-24.
Akwasi Yeboah added 14 points for Rutgers, which led by as many as 42 points in the second half. Ten players scored for the Scarlet Knights with the reserves contributing 32.
For all of the gaudy offensive statistics his team piled up, it was the defensive performance that impressed Pikiell the most.
”I thought we were locked in,” Pikiell said. ”Our screen coverage was excellent and they’ve created problems with their guards, too. I thought right from the opening tip were ready.”
On several Rutgers possessions the ball never touched the floor in the fluid half court movement.
”I just liked how we shared the ball,” Pikiell said. ”When we settled in, we reversed it and we got good looks and so everybody was involved and that’s how we need to play. Guys passed up good shots for great ones.”
It has been a tumultuous start to the season for Niagara, which hasn’t had a winning season in six years. Patrick Beilein abruptly resigned as Niagara’s head coach prior to the season. The school named former Duke star Greg Paulus as its new coach on Thursday, elevating him from assistant and signing him to a mulit-year contract.
Beilein, whose father John Beilein is in his first year as the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach, has not commented since issuing a statement announcing his departure.
”Personal reasons I can no longer take lightly have led me to step away from my dream job,” Patrick Beilein said. ”Going forward, I must give singular focus to dealing with these issues, so that I can become the man that I strive to be.”
Niagara has lost its two games by a total of 55 points.
”It’s important for us to learn from this game,” Paulus said. ”For us there’s some things on film that we will be able to correct and work on. A quick turnaround here for us and then we play again in the next couple of days. So we’ll try to use this and get better as a team.”
Niagara: With two poor shooting performances in its first two games, Niagara must find a way to get to the free throw line. In losses to Drexel and Rutgers, the Purple Eagles have attempted just seven free throws.
Rutgers: This is the deepest and most experienced roster that coach Steve Pikiell has had in his four years here. Of the 11 scholarship players, nine have seen at least 12 minutes of action in the first two games.
Niagara plays at Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday to conclude its three-game road trip to open the season.
Rutgers is home to Drexel on Wednesday.
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