Rutgers racks up first 5-0 start since 2000-01

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers racks up first 5-0 start since 2000-01

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers forward Deshawn Freeman and coach Steve Pikiell had some discussions about Freeman’s zero-rebound effort against Niagara, and whatever was said made a difference.

Freeman followed up with 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds as Rutgers defeated North Texas 66-53 in the Scarlet Knight Showcase on Wednesday night.

“I had no energy (against Niagara),” said Freeman, who got his third double-double of the season. “Grabbing rebounds gives me a lot of energy.”

Nigel Johnson and Mike Williams had 10 points each as the Scarlet Knights moved to 5-0 for the first time since 2000-01.

Shane Temara had a career-high 16 points for the Mean Green (1-3), who lost their third straight. Deckie Johnson added 13 points and seven rebounds. North Texas played without second-leading scorer Jeremy Combs, who was resting a sore ankle.

Trailing 25-24, Rutgers scored seven straight to start the second half and take the lead for good. Leading 43-40, the Scarlet Knights put it away with an 18-2 run to go up 61-42 with 2:52 remaining.

The win was keyed by a hard-nosed defensive effort, which Pikiell preaches.

“I know you would say this game was a little bit ugly but I think it was beautiful,” Pikiell said. “We couldn’t score and it didn’t matter.”

North Texas coach Tony Benford liked how his team hung tough while playing short-handed.

“I thought we played hard,” he said. “We are down five scholarship guys. When we get our whole team back, we will be very competitive.”

BIG PICTURE

North Texas: The Mean Green allowed a season-low in points by holding Rutgers to 36.5 percent shooting (23 of 63), but only shot 33.3 percent (19 of 57) and were outrebounded 53-38. We wanted to do everything we could to control tempo and stay in the game,” Benford said. “I thought we did that early on, but we couldn’t keep them off the glass.”

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have not defeated a team with a winning record yet, but their best start in 16 years earned them one vote in the AP poll. Rutgers has not been ranked since it finished No. 18 in the final poll of 1978-79. “We don’t talk about that, we talk about the team we’re playing and what we need to do,” Pikiell said. “People look at records, I look at tape.” Rutgers entered the game among the national leaders in offensive rebounding (fifth, 18.25), rebounding margin (seventh, 18.5), and total rebounds (ninth, 48.5).

GOOD AND BAD

The 66 points tied a season-low for Rutgers and the 53 were the least it allowed this season.

UGLY OFFENSE

Rutgers made its first 3-pointer then missed 13 straight and finished 3 for 20 from behind the arc. North Texas had eight shots blocked, including five by Candido Sa.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU

This was the first meeting between the two schools, and it left North Texas 1-10 against Big Ten competition.

PIKIELL PERFECT

At 5-0, Pikiell continued to add to the best start for a Scarlet Knights coach beginning his tenure.

UP NEXT

North Texas: The Mean Green hosts Niagara on Friday to kick off a five-game homestand. North Texas plays nine of its first 12 games at home.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights host Hartford Friday, and will attempt to go 6-0 for the first time since 1975-76, when the school’s lone Final Four team won its first 31 games.

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