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Steve Pikiell returns to old stomping grounds as Rutgers faces Stony Brook

Rutgers head men's basketball coach Steve Pikiell is returning to his old stomping ground in Long Island Saturday as his Scarlet Knights take on Stony Brook, where he coached for 11 years prior to coming to Piscataway. He took the Seawolves from a transitioning Division I program to an American East Conference champion and NCAA Tournament participant.  – Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez

After 11 years of building Stony Brook from the ground up, Steve Pikiell is heading back to Long Island to set the program back — at least for one night.

The Rutgers head men’s basketball coach returns to his old stomping grounds at Island Federal Credit Union Arena Saturday night, but this time he’ll be coaching on the visiting sideline.

Pikiell slowly took the Seawolves from a team learning how to compete in Division I to American East champions and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament participants in his final year.

“It’s a special place,” Pikiell said before practice on Thursday. “Just a program I’m proud of … a place that was really good to me and my family and the student population there was great and the band and all the things there were great so I’ve some mixed emotions. But when the ball is thrown up, they’re going to try to beat us and we’re going to try to beat them.”

The matchup was born out of a clause in Pikiell’s contract at Stony Brook. Wherever his career would take him after the Seawolves, he’d have to meet them the following two years for a home-and-home.

It leads to him returning to a court where the opposition has lost just 8 times in the past 5 seasons with him as their head coach. Playing on the other side for the first time, Pikiell will now see the troubles he’s put other coaches through over the past 11 years.

“It’s a tough environment,” he said. “Their winning percentage is as good as anyone in the country. I wanna get our guys ready for that. It’s going to be packed, it’s a tough place to play, the community is very involved and the team is used to winning so it’s a real challenging road game for us.”

He’ll face a group of players all recruited by him to Stony Brook now coached by Jeff Boals, a longtime assistant at Ohio State under Thad Matta.

Under him, the Seawolves (3-5) have not had lot of success on offense, ranking in the bottom 20 nationally in effective field goal percentage, according to KenPom. But one thing they don’t do is turn the ball over, ranking 8th in the country in turnovers per game according to NCAA stats, surrendering possession a little over 10 times per game.

Of the players he’ll be facing, Pikiell name-dropped senior Lucas Woodhouse, who he called “a great quarterback” and one of the “best point guards in the country.”

And while Pikiell will know what to expect from the group of players he’ll be facing, he admitted that they will have a similar advantage having played under him and knowing what he expects from his teams.

The scouting report on Woodhouse and the rest of the Seawolves is the extent of what Pikiell is talking to his players about regarding his return.

“He hasn’t said anything about (returning to Stony Brook) yet,” said junior guard Nigel Johnson. “The way I know about Coach, I would assume he’s going to have the same attitude that he has every night. He’s going to go in and try to come out 1-0, he’s not going to put any extra emphasis on it just because he used to coach there.”

Pikiell said he never got a chance to say goodbye to the school where he is regarded as the best head coach in program history. Now he will have the chance to go back and see familiar faces in the crowd, in the band, on the sidelines. And once the dust settles and the action stops, he will have his chance to get some closure on his stay and bid adieu to those who stayed behind, hoping to take another win back to his new home in Piscataway.

“It’s a program that myself and (assistant coach) Jay (Young) and (strength and conditioning coach) Dave van Dyke and (director of basketball operations) Bryan Dougher put a lot of sweat equity into,” Pikiell said. “We’re glad that they continue to be good and they’re in good hands with a good coach there doing a great job, so looking forward to playing them … It’ll be fun to be back up until the tip-off. Then it won’t be so much fun anymore.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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