Rutgers heads to Florida for Big Ten/ACC Challenge vs. Miami
The Rutgers men’s basketball team has seen a lot of success during the first few set of games to start the seasons over the last few years, and things are no different in 2018.
The Scarlet Knights (4-1) have played mostly up to par with their results since head coach Steve Pikiell took over the program in 2016. In its four wins to start the year, Rutgers has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 302-201.
But, the Knights seem to have a hard time at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge held each year, taking losses in both of Pikiell’s first two seasons. Rutgers will face off against familiar foe Miami at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Fla. tonight for another edition of the Challenge and the team’s first road game of the year, with hopes of taking a win back to New Jersey.
The Knights and the Hurricanes (5-1) were matched up together for the Challenge in 2016 and established a solid entrance for Pikiell into the series, but Miami pulled away for a 73-61 win to hand Rutgers its first loss of the 2016 season. Pikiell’s first season started with the team going 11-1 out of the gates.
Graduate student center Shaquille Doorson used his short time on the court wisely back in 2016, putting up 4 points, grabbing four boards and blocking a shot in just 9 minutes of play.
Then, last season, the Knights came into the Challenge 7-0 and ready to face another undefeated team: Florida State. Rutgers had big-time performances from two players, with junior forward Eugene Omoruyi and former player Corey Sanders leading the way for the Knights with 22 and 20 points each, respectively.
After the Seminoles went into halftime up by 1 point, both teams put up heavy fights to try and get an advantage over the other. Florida State was able to get the edge in the second half and spread things out, eventually holding Rutgers off and winning the game 78-73 to hand the Knights their first loss of the 2017 season.
This time around, Rutgers won’t have the added pressure of trying to stay undefeated on its shoulders, as the team already got that out of the way earlier this month with an 84-65 loss to St. John's at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
The Knights enter Wednesday’s matchup coming off a 54-44 win over Boston University last Friday. Omoruyi had arguably the best game of his career against the Terriers, scoring 20 points and grabbing a career-high 17 rebounds.
But the final score doesn’t tell the whole story, as Rutgers had an extremely hard time shooting the ball from the field. In fact, the bench shot a combined 1-14 for just 2 points. Omoruyi and sophomore guard Geo Baker picked up the slack for the Knights, with Baker adding another 19 points to Omoruyi’s 20.
Overall, Rutgers shot 18-56 (32 percent) and just 5-22 (23 percent) from 3-point-land. The key for the Knights were second-chance points (12) and points off turnovers (15).
"I liked that we hung in there and we just grinded it out," Pikiell said, according to scarlet knights.com. "I told the guys that defense decides the result of the game and the offense decides the margin."
Doorson was very helpful for Rutgers on the board in this one, grabbing nine defensive boards and another three on offense, which helped out on the second-chance points effort. As a team, the Knights out-rebounded Boston University, 45-33.
Despite its own poor shooting, Rutgers held the Terriers to a bad night from the field as well. Boston University shot 33 percent overall and a paltry 13 percent from beyond the arc.
Coming into the Challenge, the Hurricanes will try and bounce back from their first loss of the season at the hands of Seton Hall on Sunday evening. The gut-wrenching 83-81 loss came down to the wire and Miami had a shot to tie the score with less than 1 minute remaining.
After coming back from a 7-point deficit earlier in the half, the Hurricanes were down 82-80 when center Ebuka Izundu was sent to the free-throw line to shoot two shots. He hit the first one, but missed the second and the opportunity to tie the game with 41 seconds to play.
A shocking turnover by the Pirates gave the ball back to Miami with 16 seconds to play, but a low-percentage 3-point shot with 6 seconds left was missed by guard Anthony Lawrence, and Seton Hall grabbed the rebound. The Pirates hit one more foul shot to put the game away and handed the Hurricanes their first loss of the year.
As conference play approaches for both squads, winning as many non-conference games as possible will be key for a successful season, and will be needed if either side hopes to reach the NCAA Tournament.