PISCATAWAY, N.J. — College basketball games are 40 minutes in length, and on Sunday against the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights needed every minute to come away victorious.
Rutgers opened their season with a 94-38 win over the CCNY Beavers on Friday, and they did so without Mike Williams. With Williams back in the lineup, they were looking to move to 2-0 in the early stages of 2017-18.
The Blue Devils came into Sunday on the heels of a one-point loss to the Hartford Hawks in their opener, a game in which freshman guard Tyler Kohl emerged as a potential go-to guy on offense for coach Donyell Marshall. They were looking to notch their first win on the year, and they took the fight to Rutgers from the opening tip and didn’t make things easy.
Central Connecticut State led for most of the first half, but Rutgers fought their way back and took a slim one-point lead into the break.
A back-and-forth second half ultimately led to the Scarlet Knights opening up a double-digit lead, only to see the Blue Devils come back and make Rutgers work to the final buzzer to secure the win.
When all was said and done, Rutgers held down home court and came away with the 71-67 victory.
Issa Thiam opened the scoring for Rutgers with a layup in the first minute. Then, the offense for the Scarlet Knights was non-existent for over five minutes, thus allowing the Blue Devils to seize control of the first half.
Central Connecticut State went on a 10-0 run, one that saw four different players get on the scoreboard. Deion Bute scored four of the team’s 10 points, and the visiting side led 10-2 after the first six-plus minutes.
Williams ended the run with a three for the Scarlet Knights.
The Blue Devils led for most of the first half, until another jumper from Williams gave Rutgers a 23-22 lead with under four minutes to play in the opening frame. The Scarlet Knights took a slim 30-29 lead into the break.
Early in the second half, a layup from Kohl brought the Blue Devils even with the Scarlet Knights at 32-all. Later, a three ball from Kohl and a pair of free throws from Joe Hugley put the Blue Devils ahead by two just before the halfway point of the second frame, 46-44.
That was the last lead the Blue Devils would hold.
Rutgers took over from there, and they steadily built a lead that looked to put the game away. Williams hit a pair of free throws with under four minutes left on the clock that gave Rutgers a 65-50 lead.
With their backs against the wall, the Blue Devils continued to fight to the final buzzer, and they made the Scarlet Knights sweat it out.
Kohl led the Blue Devils on an 11-0 run over the next three-plus minutes, scoring seven points himself over that span to bring the visiting side to within four with under a minute to play. That would be as close as they would get, as Rutgers made enough free throws in the closing seconds to seal the deal on their 71-67 victory.
Tyler Kohl posted a team-high 22 points to go along with eight rebounds off the bench for the Blue Devils. Forward Mustafa Jones chipped in with 14 points, on 7-of-10 shooting, and six rebounds of his own.
Mike Williams led the way for Rutgers, scoring a game-high 23 points in his season debut. Forward Eugene Omoruyi added 13 points and seven rebounds in the win.
Following their second straight loss to open the season, Central Connecticut (0-2) will continue their four-game road swing on Tuesday against the St. John’s Red Storm.
Up next for Rutgers 2-0) is a home date against the Cleveland State Vikings on Tuesday, another contest that is in conjunction with the Showcase on the Banks event.
– T. Bennett