Rutgers 77, NJIT 53

Rutgers coach Mike Rice knows why his team continues to be
inconsistent. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

Heavy favorites coming into Thursday night’s game against New
Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers was tied at the half and
then down by eight points three minutes into the second half.

The Scarlet Knights (7-5) wound up winning 77-53 behind an 18-0
spurt early in the second half. The victory was the third straight
for Rutgers.

”We can’t pick and choose when we play with energy, play with
passion and play hard,” Rice said. ”But I do appreciate that they
woke up.”

Asked which is the real Rutgers team, the one in the first 23
minutes or the final 17 minutes, Rice said, ”Probably the
inconsistent team. That’s who we are right now. That’s unfortunate.
(But) they’re a work in progress and they’re freshmen. There’s an
immaturity still with this team right now. I’m always gloom and
doom because of my level of demand. I want them to be great all the
time.”

Two freshmen started in the game, and freshman Myles Mack came
off the bench to score a game-high 16 points. He had two assists,
but also five turnovers.

Sophomore Gil Biruta had 15 points and seven rebounds. Freshman
Eli Carter and junior Austin Johnson added 10 points apiece.

NJIT (4-6), which has lost to Rutgers all five times they’ve
played, came out strong and gave the Scarlet Knights everything
they could handle. The first half had eight ties and 12 lead
changes before the teams went off tied at 32.

Then the visitors came out and scored the first eight points of
the second half. After an exchange of baskets put the score at
42-34, Rutgers suddenly took charge.

The Highlanders went more than five minutes without a point
while Rutgers was scoring 18 in a row to take a 52-42 lead with 13
minutes still to play.

”We realized we didn’t want to go down that road,” Austin said
about why the team had such a turnaround. ”I’m hoping we’re the
team you saw in the final 17 minutes. That’s the team we need to
be. I think (the inconsistency) is just part of our growth.”

After NJIT shaved the lead to eight, Rutgers went on a 12-1
stretch to blow it open at 69-48.

Rutgers is off until the 29th, when it hosts 11th-ranked
Florida. The Big East season begins on the road against South
Florida on Jan. 1, followed by games against West Virginia,
Connecticut and Pittsburgh.

”Maybe we’ll (improve) with an upgrade in competition,” Rice
said. ”Maybe we’ll come out, maybe we won’t. We were down eight
(to NJIT). Against a Top 10 team we’ll be down 28. We’ll find out
when the top teams start coming in.”

Rutgers finished with a 51-28 advantage in rebounds, including
18-5 on the offensive end, and outscored NJIT in the lane 40-22.
The Scarlet Knights also outscored the Highlanders on second-chance
points, 19-4.

Rice knows his team will need numbers like that to handle the
rest of the season.

Asked if Rutgers will be ready for what lies ahead, Biruta
smiled and said, ”We better be.”