PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan hopes his sophomore guard Mike Williams dedicated this game to his grandmother.
After not being able to come see him play in nearly a year, Eva Johnson made the trip from Brooklyn, New York, Saturday to see her grandson play after having minor surgery. Williams gave her quite the get-well gift, scoring a career-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers to lead Rutgers past Central Arkansas 87-84 Saturday in the second of two opening round games of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event.
''I was just playing basketball to be honest,'' Williams said. ''I was taken what was given to me. I guess I wanted to give her a show because she came all the way out here to see me.''
Deshawn Freeman scored a career-high 23 points with 10 rebounds, Corey Sanders added 14 points for Rutgers (3-1) and D.J. Foreman, 10 with nine rebounds.
''He's just scratching the surface. He can be better,'' Jordan said of Freeman, a junior college transfer. ''Trying to get a better feel for paying on this level, too.''
Jordan Howard scored 19 points while Derreck Brooks had 21 points and seven rebounds for Central Arkansas (0-3).
''We know Jordan can score. There was a reason he led the league in 3-point shooting last year,'' Central Arkansas coach Russ Pennell said. ''He got out here yesterday and got some extra shots and I felt like he was going to have a big game.''
Central Arkansas lost their first two games of the season at Tulsa and at UMass by a combined 44 points. The Bears led the Scarlet Knights by as many as 7 points in the first half and the game was tied at 38 at the half.
Williams opened the second half with a 3-pointer off a pass from Sanders to give Rutgers a 41-38 lead. The Scarlet Knights held on until Mike Martin hit a fast-break jump shot off a pass from Jordan Howard and the Bears led 67-66 with 8:08 remaining.
And with just under five minutes left, Central Arkansas looked poised for the upset.
Jake Zuilhof made a layup on an assist from Jeff Lowery at 4:41 and Brooks made a layup on an assist by Justin Foreman at the 3:49 mark make it 75-71.
Sanders gave Rutgers a 76-75 lead with 2:45 to play on a layup and had a steal on the ensuing possession that led to a fast-break layup to make it 78-75.
''That was important just getting the crowd back into it, get more momentum for myself and my team,'' Sanders said.
After UCA tied it at 81 with 55 seconds left on a jumper by Brooks, Freeman scored on a layup to give Rutgers a 2-point lead.
Foreman blocked Howard's layup with 20 seconds left and Sanders iced the game with a pair of free throws on back-to-back possessions.
''It was really important for us just to ice the game and seal out the game and close it out,'' Sanders said. ''I just went to the line, focused on making the shots and they just went down''
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are in the middle of an eight-day stretch where they will play eight games.
Central Arkansas: This was the first game Central Arkansas has played in New Jersey.
NO BENCH HELP
After getting 105 points off the bench through the first three games, Rutgers had just 13 points from its bench Saturday.
Rutgers is off to a 3-1 start for the first time since 2009-10. The Scarlet Knights have the opportunity to go 4-1 for the first time since 2007-08.
Rutgers plays against Creighton in Las Vegas in the Men Who Speak Up Main Event on Monday.
Central Arkansas hosts UTSA on Monday.