After a thrilling game to start the season in Jersey Mike’s Arena on Livingston campus, the Rutgers men’s basketball team is set to host another team in Piscataway, facing Merrimack on Saturday afternoon.
“We didn't finish up plays the way we need to, but yeah, they're a veteran team,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “But I really like this team. I’m excited that we’re 1-0. That was our goal before the game. We grinded, and we’ll watch film and do what we do.”
Sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi led Rutgers in scoring with 16 points and added nine rebounds, taking over the starting role at center after the offseason transfer of Myles Johnson to UCLA. Omoruyi also finished a key alley-oop dunk in overtime that propelled the Knights to victory.
"We’re in good hands at the five spot. I love this guy,” Pikiell said when asked about his center. “He's as good of (a) worker as we've ever had in the program. He's getting better and better every day. One point away from a double-double. Really, really excited about his development and how he's a great teammate.”
After being honored pregame for reaching 1,000 career points, senior forward Ron Harper Jr. contributed a double-double with 14 points and ten rebounds. In addition to recognizing Harper, Rutgers debuted a new banner in Jersey Mike’s Arena commemorating their NCAA Tournament appearance last season.
For the first time in 618 days, the Knights played in front of a sold-out crowd, with the next home game also sold out.
“Keep in mind, we were 18-1 the last time we had fans at this court,” Pikiell said. “So to have fans back means a ton. I know the energy before the game was great. Maybe we were a little caught up in some of that stuff, and we'll settle in. But it certainly helped us in all phases today.”
The Warriors (1-0, 0-0) are also coming off of a victory in their season opener, getting past Emerson 77-48. Jordan Minor led the way for Merrimack, recording a team-high 21 points and seven rebounds. On defense, the Warriors were able to force 28 turnovers with 17 of those being steals.
Rutgers and Merrimack will meet at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Piscataway. The game will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network+ and 88.7 WRSU for radio listeners.
“I like this group a ton,” Pikiell said. “A lot of obstacles we hit today, getting through it was a good thing. And I love the fact that we grind it and grind it.”
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