PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers will be without All-Big Ten guard Geo Baker for the foreseeable future, as the senior captain is relegated to the sidelines with a sprained ankle.
That’s no problem for the Scarlet Knights and their next-man-up mentality.
Ron Harper Jr. had a career-high 30 points with efficient 11-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, and Jacob Young finished with 24 points and seven assists as No. 24 Rutgers beat Fairleigh Dickinson 96-75 Friday night.
“They gave us great energy,” Rutgers coach Pikiell said. “Ron has become a tough matchup. And Jacob, too, when he’s playing defense and playing with that great energy he’s really a tough guy to guard. He’s as fast as there is. But I really like what he’s doing on the defensive end, so I’m really pleased. He put a lot of time in and you obviously see improvements. He’s guarding guys, too, and guarding them 94 feet. … We need that from Ron every night. I wish we could get that every night, but tonight he was special. He made 3s, he could post up, he could do a lot of things. He’s a tough guy to guard. And so well we need that especially without Geo in uniform.”
Fairleigh Dickinson led by as many as seven points at 26-19 with 8:45 left in the first half after a 3-pointer by Brandon Rush. From there, Rutgers clamped down defensively.
Young hit a 3-pointer to give Rutgers a 29-28 lead after trailing much of the first half. The Scarlet Knights extended the lead over the final 5:20, moving ahead 47-33 at the break and closing the half with a 28-7 run.
“As coach Pike preaches to us, once one man goes down, the next man has to be ready,” Young said. “I see the guys coming off the bench playing behind Geo that want the opportunity and they’re going to play hard, as we do in practice every day. They’re taking advantage of it.”
Montez Mathis added 15 points for Rutgers (2-0) as the Scarlet Knights led by as many as 26 in the second half.
P.O. Racine had 14 points and 11 rebounds for FDU (0-2), while Rush and Jahil Jenkins each scored 16 points.
“He’s one of the best players in his conference,” Mathis said of playing defense against Jenkins,. “He’s a real good player, so we just wanted to key on him because he gets their team going.”
Joe Munden Jr.`s layup got FDU within single digits at 62-53 with 13:42 to play, but the Knights never got closer.
Rutgers has looked the part of a Top 25 team so far and should stay in the rankings if it can take care of business Sunday against Hofstra out of the CAA.
Baker sprained his ankle in the opener and was sitting on the bench with a boot on his left foot.
“Probably not a whole lot to report. He’s not gonna play anytime soon,” Pikiell said. “We just got to keep them in the training room to get as much treatment as he can, but the boot will be on for a little bit here.”
Fairleigh Dickinson: Picked to finish atop the NEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Knights return all but three members of last year’s 11-18 team that went 9-9 in the conference. Seniors Jahli Jenkins and Elyjah Williams were named to the preseason all-conference team for a program that won its first-ever NCAA Tournament game in 2019 and is hoping to make it back to the tournament for the third time under eight-year coach Greg Herenda.
Rutgers: Opening the season as a preseason Top 25 team for the first time since 1978-79, Rutgers has more hype around it than it has in decades. Looking to end its 30-year NCAA Tournament drought this season, the Scarlet Knights are off to a good start. They’ll get one more tuneup vs. a low or mid-major conference team before they host Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Fairleigh Dickinson: At Hofstra on Monday.
Rutgers: Hosts Hofstra on Sunday.