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Rutgers men's basketball wins gritty matchup against Merrimack

Sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi put up a double-double against Merrimack. – Photo by Tom Gilbert

After a slow start that saw only 16 first half points, the Rutgers men’s basketball team rallied at Jersey Mike’s Arena on Livingston campus on Saturday to defeat Merrimack 48-35. The Scarlet Knights (2-0, 0-0) held a team under 40 points for the 11th time in the shot clock era.

“I have to give a tip of the hat to Merrimack,” said head coach Steve Pikiell after the game. “I knew that game would be a grind because that's the pace they play at. Their zone forces you to run clock, and then the way their offense is structured, they're running more clock, so we knew it'd be kind of an old-fashioned grind, and it was.”

Rutgers was held scoreless for the first 5 minutes before a three from senior forward Ron Harper Jr. put the Knights on the board. He scored 7 of the 16 first-half points, leading the team going into the break.

The Warriors (2-1, 0-0) were led by head coach Joe Gallo, who grew up near the Banks in Milltown, New Jersey.

“I felt kind of weird,” Gallo said when asked about coaching against Rutgers. “At halftime when I heard the fight song, it was hard to not sing it because I've been going to games here since I was probably 6 years old. I love what Coach Pikiell and his staff do with these guys. Every other night of the year, I'm a huge Rutgers fan."

In the second half, Rutgers allowed just 12 points and went on a 24-6 run coming out of the half. Sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi continued to show his offseason development, recording a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Harper led the Knights in scoring for the 25th time in his career, scoring 13 points and adding 11 rebounds for another double-double. 

Freshman guard Jaden Jones had a career-high 9 points, including a shot that put Rutgers up 10 with less than 3 minutes remaining.

“He made an alert play, and that was great,” Pikiell said when asked about Jones. “He made some big shots too. For freshmen, it's a tough adjustment to college. It's very different. And he's come into first two games, and he hasn't flinched, and we keep seeing him get better and better and better. And what I really liked was his work defensively. He did some good things for us today."

The Knights look to remain undefeated when they face NJIT on Tuesday night. The game will take place at Jersey Mike’s Arena and will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network+. 

“Real pleased that we were able to come away with a win and 2-0,” Pikiell said. “Great performances by (Omoruyi), (Harper),(Jones) ... giving us a boost. Everyone chipped in, and we were able to tough it out."

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

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