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Rutgers men's basketball faces Big Ten leader No. 3 Michigan

The Rutgers men's basketball team will look for back-to-back wins with a victory against Michigan tonight.  – Photo by Rutgers Men’s Basketball / Twitter

The Rutgers men’s basketball team will travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan tonight. The Scarlet Knights (12-7, 8-7) will be looking for their first ever victory over the No. 3 Wolverines (14-1, 9-1), the last of the Big Ten teams that the program has yet to defeat, according to Rutgers Athletics.

Rutgers, who was left off of the Associated Press Top 25 Poll for this week after holding the No. 25 spot in the ranking last week, earned a 64-50 win over Northwestern last Saturday. In the victory, the Knights were led in-part by a dominant effort on the boards by junior center Myles Johnson, who finished with 12 points and a team-high 14 rebounds, and junior guard Ron Harper Jr., who tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds. 

“I know everyone will look at if the ball goes in or not, but that's a small percentage of what he brings to our team,” said head men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell about Harper Jr. after Saturday’s win. “Today, you saw the rebounds and you saw the free throws and he was making some shots, but he's been doing a lot of good things for us during the streak here and (I’m) just (really) pleased.”

On the opposite side, a formidable opponent awaits in Michigan. After undergoing a two-week pause due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns, the Wolverines used a strong second half performance to defeat Wisconsin 67-59 in their first game back on Sunday. Michigan was led by Isaiah Livers, who scored 20 points in the win, and Hunter Dickinson, who scored 11 points to go along with 15 rebounds.

“Physically, they're really big and they do a great job of challenging you at the rim and the most amazing thing is they do it without fouling too,” said Pikiell, according to The Wolverine. “Really, really well coached, and it's a really good basketball team. They have good players at every position and they have a bench that's strong and they're very athletic, and they've added a few pieces, too.”

With the Wolverines awaiting, Rutgers has won 5 of its last 6 games, with one reason for its recent success being the play of Johnson. So far this season, Johnson has averaged 8.8 rebounds per game to go along with 2.37 blocks per game, both of which are among the top five in the Big Ten. Additionally, Johnson has had three double-doubles over the past six games to boost the Knights in their wins.

Accompanying Johnson, senior guard Jacob Young has provided 14.1 points per game (PPG) and a conference-leading 1.8 steals per game off the bench. Harper Jr. continues to lead Rutgers in scoring averaging 16.2 PPG.

Michigan ranks third in the Big Ten in PPG as a team, averaging 78.9 points per contest while the Knights come in at ninth, scoring 71.8 PPG. Both teams rank inside the top five in the conference in field goal percentage, with the Wolverines shooting 50.2 percent to Rutgers' 46.1 percent.

A win on Thursday would represent the highest ranked win in program history and the second ever top-five win for the Knights, according to Rutgers Athletics. The highest ranked win the team has had under Pikiell was the defeat of No. 9 Maryland in March 2020.

“Michigan has been great since I’ve been in the league,” said Pikiell, according to On The Banks. “Elite program. We got to go on the road. Another coach in our league said this is a national championship-type team. You got to play well. It’s another thing we’ve never done. It would be great for our guys.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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