PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)Any concern of a letdown for Rutgers a week after knocking off its biggest rival was quickly erased on Sunday. The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a huge lead, then cruised to a 63-44 victory over Lafayette behind a career-high 18 points from Myles Johnson.
Rutgers (9-3) kept the momentum going after recording a 68-48 win over interstate rival Seton Hall, ranked No. 22 at the time on Dec. 14. The Scarlet Knights jumped to a 17-0 lead on Sunday, with Lafayette missing 10 shots in that span.
”We talked a lot about it,” said Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell regarding the importance of starting strong after last week’s big win. ”We’re going to be mature and we’re going to have that kind of maturity to come back from a game like that.
”We had a great crowd tonight, which was awesome. For our guys to come out and play the way they did to start the game was a great sign that we’ve matured. We were locked in.”
In its last three games, Rutgers has started with a combined 40-0 score, comprised of Sunday’s 17-0 burst, 14-0 against Seton Hall and 9-0 against Wisconsin.
Johnson grabbed 14 rebounds for his third double-double of the season for the Scarlet Knights. The sophomore center, who was fifth in the country in field-goal percentage coming into the game at 73.2%, made 9 of his 11 shots.
””He’s (Johnson) getting better and better,” said Pikiell. ”He’s making some tough traffic points, too, but his rebounding always affects his point total. He’s doing a great job of rebounding on both ends of the floor.”
Geo Baker and Paul Mulcahy added 10 points apiece for Rutgers, which received scoring contributions from 10 players in the wire-to-wire win.
Lafayette’s Justin Jaworski, who entered the game averaging 20.7 points, scored just 13 as the Leopards (7-3) saw an end to their five-game win streak. Lafayette was averaging 83.6 points during the streak.
Rutgers took a decisive 51-21 edge with 11 minutes to play on a tip-in from Johnson.
The Scarlet Knights held Lafayette to 13 points in the opening half, the lowest points they have allowed in a half this season and the second time this season that they held an opponent to 15 points or less in a half
Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon said his team may have been intimidated by the surroundings as a reason for the sluggish start.
”I think it was more the moment, playing in front of this many people (5,692) and the magnitude of the game,” said O’Hanlon. ”We came out, not everybody, but it doesn’t take everybody as a couple people, more starstruck.
”You try to warn them that this is how it’s going to be. Rutgers is a very good basketball team. We saw what they did to the 22nd-ranked team in the country (Seton Hall) . We’ve seen that. Did we come out a little bit intimidated? I don’t know.”
Sunday was the 116th meeting between the two schools, dating back to 1917. Rutgers owns a 69-47 edge in the series.
The offense for Lafayette has been potent, ranking first in the Patriot League in scoring, field-goal percentage, 3-point field-goal percentage and scoring margin. On Sunday it sputtered, shooting just 31 percent from the floor.
Rutgers held an opponent to under 50 points for the second straight game. It knocked off interstate rival Seton Hall 68-48 on Dec. 14. Sunday marked the eighth time this season that an opponent shot below 40 percent from the field against Rutgers. Lafayette shot 31.5 percent (17 of 54)
Lafayette: The Leopards travel to Sacred Heart on Dec. 29.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights host Caldwell on Dec. 30
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