Khadijah Rushdan, Rutgers top Lehigh, continue hot start

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- C. Vivian Stringer has always seen the first part of the season as a time to mix and match, experiment a little and get Rutgers ready for the more important things, like the Big East Conference schedule and hopefully the NCAA tournament.

That's what happened Tuesday night in a 68-40 win over Lehigh.

Freshman Briyona Canty got her first start and had six points, three assists and three steals. Senior Khadijah Rushdan moved from the point to the power forward and scored a game-high 16 points. April Sykes got some work on the front end of No. 13 Rutgers' "55" defense and added 11 points.

It wasn't a perfect performance, but Stringer got a chance to use different players in different positions and that's all she wanted.

"I think anybody who has followed our teams knows we don't settle into who the starting lineup is going to be until January," Stringer said. "I think we have the potential to groom a number of players to legitimately be ready for the rigors of competition. But we need to put them in a fire situation right from the beginning."

Monique Oliver had 10 points and seven rebounds as the Scarlet Knights (4-0) continued their best start since 2005-06, when they won their first eight games en route to reaching the regional finals.

The 40 points allowed was Rutgers' best defensive effort of the season.

"It's still a work in progress," Stringer said of her pressing defense. "There is no question about that. I don't think it's in me to say that I am totally satisfied."

Aly Byorick had 11 points for Lehigh (1-4), which shot 24.4 percent for the game. The Mountain Hawks hit 10 field goals, with only three being inside the 3-point line.

"Just starting off the season we have kind of struggled putting the ball in the basket, that was kind of evident today as well," Lehigh coach Sue Troyan said. "I thought we did a good job in the first half of handling their pressure, it's just a matter of knocking down shots. We knocked down some threes but not enough to stay in the game."

Byorick hit three straight 3-pointers to get the Mountain Hawks within 18-17 with 8:34 left in the first half, but Rutgers called a time out and responded with a 14-4 spurt to take a 32-21 halftime lead.

"The last couple of games we just started off a little slow but I am proud of the team because we were able to pick it up a lot faster than on Saturday," Rushdan said. "We have to make sure we do a better job of coming out with a lot of intensity, like the first two games."

The Scarlet Knights forced six turnovers in the opening five minutes of the second half and pushed the lead to 43-26 on a layup by Rushdan. They eventually increased the margin to 29 points before Stringer cleared her bench.

While disappointed with the loss, Byorick said Lehigh's goal is to compete for the Patriot League title in February.

"We're not going to see the type of pressure that Rutgers put on us for 40 minutes in the Patriot League," the senior said. "Just going up against them, it prepares us come January, come February when it really counts in season play."