PISCATAWAY — Even though Rutgers forced 18 turnovers that led to 28 points, interim head coach David Cox wasn’t happy with his team’s defense.
But he couldn’t complain about the offense, as Rutgers shot 60 percent for the second straight game to defeat Howard 79-55 Friday night.
Eli Carter scored 20 points for Rutgers (8-2), which shot 33-for-55 and 8-for-12 from 3-point range in winning for the eighth time in nine games. Myles Mack had 15 points and four assists and Wally Judge added 12 points, six rebounds and three assists as the Scarlet Knights moved to 2-0 under Cox.
The associate head coach is filling in for Mike Rice, who is suspended without pay for three games due to violation of athletic department policy.
“They seem a little relaxed,” Cox said of Rutgers’ shooting. “They are trusting one another a little more, giving up the ball. When that happens it’s contagious, and when you see the ball go in that helps.”
Rutgers entered the game shooting 47.7 percent for the season, a figure that was boosted by its 60 percent effort against UAB Sunday.
“I feel like everybody is just real comfortable right now and we just go out and play for one another,” said forward Austin Johnson, who had five points. “When you play for your teammates it makes it easier. I think it’s gonna continue.”
“We’re staying in the gym,” said Judge, who shot 6-for-6. “We’re coming in, getting extra shots. We all want to be more efficient.”
The thing that bothered Cox is that Howard also shot well in the first half, hitting 11 of 20 (55 percent) before finishing 21 of 46 (45.7 percent).
“Defensively we are still a work in progress,” Cox said. “They shot 55 percent, which is unacceptable, especially against a team that doesn’t shoot well.”
Howard (3-10) got 16 points from Anton Dickerson and 10 points and six rebounds from Mike Phillips.
Holding a 43-32 lead, Rutgers broke it open when Carter scored five points in an 8-0 run. The Knights extended their lead to 23 twice, and their largest lead was the final score.
Many of Rutgers’ baskets came off steals that led directly to layups.
“I guess we were just anticipating,” Mack said. “I’d see guys put the ball over their head. I’m just real sneaky, so I know when to reach for it and when not to. I guess we reached for it at the right time.”
After Theodore Boyomo’s layup gave the Bison a 22-21 lead, the seventh lead change of the first half, Carter hit a 3-pointer to start a 16-6 run that gave Rutgers a 37-28 halftime edge.
After taking a 60-37 advantage in the second half, Rutgers allowed the Bison to get within 15 twice but, with the score 64-49, Carter converted a four-point play and Judge sealed it with a slam with under four minutes left.
Cox was happy the Knights did not let up after taking their big lead, which has been a problem this season.
“I addressed the fact I was concerned about this game,” he said. “I took some time and talked about all of the things that are signs to me of taking this game lightly — lack of communication, looking for your stats.
“I was very clear what my concerns were and what I’d be looking for tonight, and I thought they responded very well.”
It was the first meeting between the two schools, and the victory extended Rutgers’ record to 11-0 against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference members.