PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Playing in his first home game of the season after sitting out due to injury and NCAA eligibility, Jeremiah Williams filled up the box score for Rutgers in its 78-56 win over No. 11 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Williams scored 18 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed five rebounds as Rutgers used a stifling defense to lead the entire game. He was 6 of 6 from the line.
The Scarlet Knights (13-10, 5-7 Big Ten) scored 15 points off 12 Wisconsin turnovers to secure their third straight win. Noah Fernandes contributed 17 points and Clifford Omoruyi added 13 points and 13 rebounds.
The 22-point victory was the largest margin of victory for Rutgers over a ranked opponent in program history.
Williams had not played a college basketball game in nearly two years (709 days) prior to being activated before Rutgers' game at Michigan on Feb. 3. The Iowa State transfer endured a season-ending Achilles injury last year and then had to sit out 20 games this season for violating the NCAA's gambling policy.
He helped Rutgers defeat Michigan, then played a big role in the Scarlet Knights victory on the road at Maryland on February 6th. Saturday was his debut in front of 8,000 at Jersey Mike's Arena.
“I just kept working and staying positive,” Williams said of his time away playing. “It's everything to play on this stage.”
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said Williams adds an intangible beyond his ability to score and distribute.
“I love his (Williams) personality,” Pikiell said. “He's always smiling, he loves practice and he's given us a voice on the court. I'm thankful he's out there.”
Connor Essegian and AJ Storr scored 15 and 14 points, respectively, for Wisconsin (16-8, 8-5). The Badgers never got within single digits in the second half.
“They were more aggressive than we were,” noted Wisconsin coach Greg Gard. “We were way too tentative. We didn’t respond up and down the lineup. I'm disappointed how we reacted to the pressure. That’s the biggest thing.”
The Scarlet Knights shot 59% on 3's (10 of 17).
After the Badgers closed to 54-44 on a 6-0 burst, Rutgers countered with five straight points from Fernandes to move ahead 59-44 with 8:12 remaining.
Rutgers took advantage of 11 first-half turnovers by Wisconsin to build a 37-28 lead. It was the fewest points scored in the first half for the Badgers in a Big Ten game this season.
Wisconsin will most likely drop in the poll after losing by six points to No. 2 Purdue, four points to Michigan and now 22 points to Rutgers.
Wisconsin: Part of the Badgers spiral is their inability to convert 3-pointers. They were just 5 of 21 against Rutgers after going 5 of 19 against Michigan and 3 of 19 against Purdue.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have been buoyed by the return of Williams, who was out due to injury and NCAA eligibility. In his first two games prior to Saturday, both Rutgers' wins, he averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 42.9% from the field. His emergence has provided stability to a roster that has been plagued by off-season transfers and injuries.
Wisconsin: Hosts Ohio State on Tuesday night.
Rutgers: Hosts Northwestern on Thursday.
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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball