The Rutgers men's basketball team fell to Princeton 68-61 in its season opener. The Scarlet Knights (0-1, 0-0) could not overcome poor guard play and inconsistent rebounding to come back against the Tigers (1-0, 0-0).
In front of the CURE Insurance Arena crowd, filled with mostly Rutgers fans, the Knights got off to a slow start, trailing 14-7 approximately 6 minutes into the game. Princeton's perimeter passing caused defensive miscues, and Rutgers also had a hard time boxing out and grabbing rebounds. The Tigers grabbed 7 more rebounds than the Knights in the first 7 minutes.
After the rough start, though, Rutgers was able to settle down, and an alley-oop pass from senior center Clifford Omoruyi that was finished by sophomore forward Antwone Woolfolk tied the game at 16-16 with approximately 10 minutes left in the first half.
The contest would become a back-and-forth affair for the final 10 minutes of the half. But a 7-0 run for Princeton in the final two minutes would give it a 32-28 lead heading into halftime.
Matt Allocco was the Tigers' standout performer in the first half, scoring 13 points, shooting 6-7 from the field and corralling six rebounds.
Woolfolk had a solid first half for the Knights, scoring 6 points, snagging two rebounds and getting his hands in the passing lanes for two steals.
Rutgers had a tough time rebounding, as Princeton grabbed four more rebounds in the first half.
The Tigers got off to a fast start in the second half, hitting 3 of its first 4 three-point attempts to give themselves a 9-point lead with approximately 17 minutes remaining in the contest. The Knights would once again respond, going on a 13-4 run that was capped off by a layup from freshman guard Jamichael Davis to tie the game at 45-45 with nearly 10 minutes left.
Princeton remained unfazed by the scoring run and went on a 12-2 run in the next 3 minutes to give it a double-digit lead.
Rutgers would attempt to fight back again, but the Tigers countered every Knights scoring run down the stretch to come out with the 7-point victory.
The Knights guards struggled all game. Davis scored his first collegiate basket in the first half but shot 2-10 from the field in the contest. Fifth-year guard Noah Fernandes scored 10 points but shot 3-10 from the field, and sophomore guard Derek Simpson only scored 2 points and had three turnovers.
"I got to put these guys in better situations," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "We got to make better decisions, we do have to finish at the rim."
Omoruyi and Woolfolk both had strong games, scoring a combined 22 points and grabbing a combined 11 rebounds.
Allocco and Caden Pierce shined for Princeton. Allocco finished with 21 points on an efficient 9-13 from the field and also corralled nine rebounds. Pierce only scored 8 points, but despite being 6-foot-7, he got six offensive rebounds and 15 rebounds in total.
"I watched Allocco a ton, I liked him a ton, and to see him live doesn't do him justice," Pikiell said. "He's really poised and strong and physical."
Rutgers will look to bounce back and get its first win on Friday against Boston University. The game will begin at 7 p.m. and be broadcast on Big Ten Plus and 88.7 WRSU-FM.
"The early games of the season, they're on the coaching staff," Pikiell said. "We have to be prepared for everything, and we weren't. Hopefully, moving forward here, we will have a couple of tapes on some different teams, and it will be a little bit easier to make some in-game adjustments."
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