PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — While Corey Sanders’ offense will be shown on the highlight reel, coach Steve Pikiell focused on his star guard’s defense in Rutgers’ 67-58 overtime victory over Northwestern on Tuesday night.
“The heck with the offense, I thought his defense was spectacular the whole night,” Pikiell said, adding, “He was confident and he had a little swagger tonight and that’s how I want him to play.”
With senior captain Deshawn Freeman benched, Sanders had a game-high 30 points to lead Rutgers’ effort at the RAC.
Sanders, who kept the Scarlet Knights (13-15, 3-12 Big Ten) alive all game, hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime tied at 56.
“I just ended up really open,” Sanders said. “I didn’t understand how open I was. Shot the ball.”
It went in, as part of Rutgers’ 32-13 run to end the game.
Derek Pardon hit his first six shots and had 13 rebounds to go along with 12 points to lead Northwestern (15-12, 6-8). Scottie Lindsey added 19 points and Aaron Falzon – who went 3 for 3 in the first half – had eight points off the bench for the Wildcats.
Pardon and Falzon started a combined 8-for-8 shooting in the first half. Northwestern finished a stretch of 5 of 6 games on the road.
“We won three of them,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “Went 3-3 during that stretch. Had an opportunity to go 4-2 and couldn’t finish the deal.”
Northwestern jumped out to an 8-2 lead on a Lindsey jumper assisted by Bryant McIntosh before Rutgers tied it at 10 on a Sanders layup.
The Wildcats almost pulled away early. Souf Mensah’s bucket stopped Northwestern’s 12-2 run and left Rutgers trailing 23-16. Northwestern went into the break up 33-24.
“We’ve been hanging in there in these games,” Pikiell said. “And I knew if we just kept plugging away on the defensive end we’d get enough opportunities to score.”
Northwestern: Losers of two in a row coming off a loss at Maryland, the Wildcats need to get back on track with a win as they try to build up a resume to make the NCAA Tournament after making it to the dance for the first time a season ago.
Rutgers: Picked to finish last in the Big Ten, Rutgers is trying to dig itself out of the basement of the conference as they snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Freeman didn’t play for the first time this season because of a coach’s decision. The senior captain started 31 of 33 games last year and all 17 this year.
Northwestern: Hosts No. 2 Michigan State on Saturday, at 1 p.m.
Rutgers: Travels to Maryland on Saturday night.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.