PISCATAWAY, N.J. — You would think after all the bulletin board material JaKarr Sampson gave to Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights would have come to play in arguably their biggest game of the season.
You would have been wrong.
Rutgers — and their fans — put up a pathetic effort as Sampson and the Johnnies came into the RAC and throttled the lifeless Scarlet Knights, 72-60, to earn revenge from their two-point loss two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden.
On a brutally cold night that coincided with the return of students to campus from winter break, the Rutgers’ student section slowly filled up after a weak early showing, but the total crowd number ended at 4,742.
“I hold myself to what I say,” the 6-foot-8 Sampson said of his comments to the New York Post Wednesday that St. John’s “should have won the first game.”
“I thought we should’ve won that last game we played Rutgers. I just hold myself to what I said. I should’ve made shots down the stretch the last game. This game I did.”
Sampson, a potential one-and-done talent, went for 21 points and seven rebounds. Teammate D’Angelo Harrison scored 20 points and Sir’ Dominic Pointer filled up the stat sheet with 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and six steals as the Johnnies won their third straight.
The win improved St. John’s to 12-7, 4-3 in a crowded Big East.
With home games against bottom-dwellers Seton Hall and DePaul coming up. a 6-3 start is within St. John’s grasp.
“That would be big-time,” Sampson said. “The league is kind of crazy right now. We could probably separate ourself from the pack. These next two games are big for us.”
Rutgers had a chance to move to 4-3 in Big East play for the first time and to beat St. John’s twice in one season for the first time since 1978-79.
But after a jumping out to an 18-9 lead, they wilted, giving up a 16-0 run that bridged the first and second halves.
Eli Carter, Rutgers’ leading scorer at 16.2 points per game, was scoreless at the half and mustered only five second-half points while finishing the night 1-for-14.
In two games against St. John’s this season, the former St. Anthony star is 4-for-28.
Carter did not speak to the media, leaving head coach Mike Rice to speak for him.
“If it’s not dropping for one reason or another, pick up the challenge defensively, make some assists,” Rice said. “Do something, make a play for your team, a winning play. Right now it’s affecting him. Putting the ball in the bucket is affecting him while he’s on the floor.”
Myles Mack led Rutgers with 17 points on 6-for-16 shooting, but no one else seemed especially engaged on a night when Rutgers desperately need a statement victory on its home court.
Mike Poole scored 11 points and Wally Judge had 10, but Rutgers’ bigs — Austin Johnson and Kadeem Jack — combined to go 2-for-5 for six points.
While the schedule ahead favors St. John’s, it doesn’t look good for Rutgers (12-6, 3-4).
They visit UConn Sunday, then go to Cincinnati Jan. 30 before hosting Louisville Feb. 6. It’s not easy to imagine a 3-7 start if the Knights play with this lack of effort.
Speaking of the poor crowd showing and the general malaise of the night, Rice said, “I don’t have control of the crowd and who shows up, but I do have control of my team. I was very disappointed in our lack of compete tonight, and our lack of execution especially in the defensive end, and that’s what I can control. I know we’ll go back to work and gauge the fight in this team.”
Photo: Daily News