PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Steve Pikiell isn’t concerned when it comes to his team eking out victories against low-and mid-majors picked to finish in the bottom half of its respective league.
Instead, the fourth-year coach of a team that has legitimate postseason expectations for the first time in over a decade sees a Rutgers team that can grind out wins. That was the case for the second time in three games as Ron Harper Jr. had 13 points and eight rebounds to lead Rutgers past Drexel 62-57 on Wednesday night.
“Enjoy the journey, enjoy every game,” Pikiell. “You guys all want to go to the end of the book. I like to enjoy the first few chapters. That’s the fun part of the game, so enjoy this team. They’re fun to watch. They’re getting better and we’ve started four sophomores, we play a lot of young guys, so people that say that - W’s. We’re 3-0 after three games and we’re going to keep getting better."
Drexel (2-2) had its first lead of the game at 29-28 with just over a minute left to play in the first half after a put-back layup on a fast break by Matey Juric, but Rutgers took it back on the next possession on a Geo Baker layup. James Butler’s second-chance layup put Drexel up 31-30 going into the half.
However, Rutgers would promptly take the lead in the second half on a Baker three-pointer on the fast break after Montez Mathis stripped the ball from Mate Okros.
Mathis would have back-to-back dunks off Drexel turnovers just under five minutes into the second half to make it 38-33, causing the Dragons to call a timeout with 15:35 to go. Drexel would re-tie the game at 47 on a Camren Winter three-pointer with 7:42 remaining, before taking a 50-49 advantage on a Jarvis Doles three-pointer from the left wing with 5:30 remaining.
It was the final lead Drexel would have, not scoring for nearly four minutes as Rutgers went on an 8-0 run. Drexel made a pair of free throws to cut it to 57-52 with 1:32 remaining.
“I thought we had really good looks,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said. “We didn’t score a bunch, but I thought we had some looks where guys were open. … We didn’t make shots.”
Drexel was led by Zach Walton’s 11 points.
Baker added 13 points for Rutgers while Mathis added 12 points.
“You got to be ready to play 40 minutes every night,” Harper Jr. said. “You got to be ready to play 40, it doesn’t matter who you play. You see in the NCAA men’s basketball, there’s a little bit of a shakeup right now with a lot of teams getting upset, a lot of teams aren’t supposed to win, win because that’s just college basketball. Every basketball team is going to prepare for you so you can’t take any team for granted.”
FAST BREAK BUCKETS
Rutgers was most effective in transition when pushing the tempo, outscoring Drexel 26-2 in fast-break points.
Drexel: Under the direction of fourth-year coach Zach Spiker, the Dragons were picked to finish eighth in the CAA preseason coaches’ poll, while sophomore guard Camren Winters was named to the All-CAA preseason second team.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights will leave the cozy confines of the RAC for the first time when they travel to Toronto to take on St. Bonaventure in the third game of a tripleheader in the Naismith Classic before another three-game homestand of winnable games, making a perfect November possible.
Drexel: At Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.
Rutgers: At St. Bonaventure in Toronto is for the third game of a tripleheader in the Naismith Classic on Saturday night.