FREEPORT, Bahamas (AP) -- Cappie Pondexter and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights made themselves at home at the Junkanoo Jam.
For the second straight year, Rutgers (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) left the Caribbean with a tournament championship. Pondexter, who missed the first eight games last season, scored 24 points Saturday to lead Rutgers to a 66-56 victory over North Carolina State and the Jam's Freeport Division crown."It was great," said Pondexter, the division MVP who didn't compete in the tournament last year. "Overall, it was a great experience knowing this was my last go-round and wanted to make sure Rutgers came out with a victory."Pondexter helped the Scarlet Knights (2-0) build a 13-point lead in the second half. Then, after the Wolfpack (2-2) rallied to make it 51-49, Pondexter and Essence Carson combined for seven straight points to put the game out of reach.Rutgers coach Viv Stringer doesn't know what it is about the islands that does her team good."Maybe I need to ask my athletic director if we could come back," said Stringer, who thinks the bonding that occurs on these trips is invaluable. "We walk out of here a little stronger than we were."That showed. Even though the North Carolina State score was closer, the Scarlet Knights were much crisper than their 66-36 opening win against North Florida.Stringer let her team know after that game that she wanted more defense and intensity -- and she got it against North Carolina State.In the first four minutes, the Scarlet Knights had four steals and forced six turnovers.Still, they couldn't break away from the Wolfpack.It didn't look that way when Pondexter's 3-pointer early in the second half put Rutgers up 36-23. Over the next seven minutes -- aided by three easy inside buckets by 6-foot-7 junior college transfer Gillian Goring -- North Carolina State closed to 39-36.Pondexter and Carson each had a basket as the Scarlet Knights built their lead back to 45-36. Once again, the Wolfpack rallied.Khadijah Whittington scored five points and Tiffany Stansbury had four points to slice Rutgers' edge to 51-49 with 4:25 left.That's when Carson and Pondexter put North Carolina State away for good.Pondexter closed the surge with a driving basket along the left baseline that led to a three-point play."That's what good teams do, they fight through," Carson said.Pondexter was slow at first, hitting just two of her first eight shots."Cappie Pondexter was definitely the difference," Wolfpack coach Kay Yow said. "They're very well prepared and they just made it happen."Early on, it was prize freshman Kia Vaughn who led Rutgers, starting a 10-3 run with an inside basket followed by a three-point play. Pondexter hit a jumper and Michelle Campbell made a free throw and a driving bucket to put Rutgers up 21-12.North Carolina State did not get the open looks against Rutgers it did a night earlier when it made a school-record 15 3-pointers in blowing past Iowa State. The Wolfpack attempted only four shots from behind the arc. Their outside shooting took another hit when Keisha Brown, who hit eight of the 3s in the win over the Cyclones, played just six minutes after falling to the court and limping off.Brown returned in the second half and finished with a 3-pointer and five points.