PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Both Myles Johnson and the Rutgers defense had breakout performances in the same night.
Johnson had a career-high 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Rutgers past NJIT 85-58 on Tuesday night.
“It definitely felt like one of the games that I made a statement to the league and everybody that I’m here,” Johnson said.
Ron Harper Jr. had 25 points and seven rebounds for Rutgers.
In the first half, NJIT (2-5) led much of the first 10 minutes – and by as many as six points – before Geo Baker hit a 3-pointer off a Highlanders' turnover to make it 21-18 with 9:01 left. It sparked a 12-2 run for Rutgers (5-1) over the next five minutes, forcing NJIT coach Brian Kennedy to call timeout down 30-20. However, Rutgers would continue the run and take a 36-22 halftime lead.
"They definitely picked up their defense after the timeout,” NJIT coach Brian Kennedy said. “They came up and picked up full court, started pressuring us and playing more physical, and pushing us out. We normally start our offense at the three-point line and in and we're out by the hash marks... I don't know what Steve (Pikiell) said in the timeout to get them going, but they were a more focused and more physical team on defense for sure."
Rutgers continued its pace in the second half, a 15-6 spurt ballooning the lead to 51-28 with 15:33 left after an alley-oop from Montez Mathis to Baker on a fast break. Rutgers would later lead by as many as 32 points.
NJIT was led by Kjell de Graaf with 13 points and San Antonio Brinson scored 11. Baker had 14 points and five assists for Rutgers.
COOKS NOT COOKING
The Scarlett Knights held Cooks, who was tied for fifth in the nation in scoring heading into the game, to 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting.
“I thought that was a key to the whole game was we kind of made it tough for Cooks to get good looks and he’s an important part of their offense,” Pikiell said.
SHARING IS CARING
Rutgers had 22 assists for the second time this season. The first was in an 86-39 win over Niagra.
“They're sharing the game. I love the fact that we had 22 assists. That's what happens when the ball goes inside. Good things happen when everyone touches the ball and everyone plays team basketball and I thought we had that today," Pikiell said.
NJIT: The Highlanders were picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic Sun preseason poll under the direction of fourth-year coach Kennedy and behind the play of preseason all-conference guard Cooks, who was averaging 25.3 points per game heading into the contest.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have grinded their way through a weak non-conference schedule. They have one more cupcake in UMass before traveling to Pitt and opening Big Ten play at No. 3 Michigan State.
NJIT: At Army West Point next Wednesday.
Rutgers: Host UMass on Friday.
For more AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25