Rutgers upsets Nebraska for second conference win

With the spring semester looming and classes set to begin once again, the Rutgers basketball team wanted to give the student body one more thing to celebrate before going back to school. And that it did, with a win over Nebraska inside the Rutgers Athletics Center Monday night.

Down 31-18 with just under 5 minutes in the first half, the Scarlet Knights (9-9, 2-6) stormed all the way back thanks to a 32-16 run that stretched over two halves to take down the Big Ten blue-blooded Corn Huskers (13-6, 3-5), 76-69 in front of a crowd of 5,022 to get back to .500 on the season.

In a very strong conference that features nine teams within three games of each other, Rutgers pulled this one out thanks in large part to its rebounding prowess. 

“We’re a good rebounding team and I love when our guys go up and get it. I thought (freshman center) Myles (Johnson) made some big blocks, too, down the stretch to make sure they didn’t get to the rim. We had some great minutes by these guys and a great job focusing on the backboard,” said head coach Steve Pikiell.

The Knights outrebounded the Huskers 44-34, including a 14-9 advantage in offensive boards. But perhaps none were more important than Johnson’s and freshman forward Montez Mathis’s with less than a minute remaining that sealed the win for Rutgers.

Both Johnson and Mathis led the team in total rebounds with 11 and nine, respectively. With his 13 points, Johnson also recorded a double-double. 

“I just felt like I had all the energy in the world and I just utilized that energy to my advantage, gave it my all and played hard on every possession,” Johnson said.

The win also came in junior forward Eugene Omoruyi’s return to the lineup. Omoruyi had been out for nearly two weeks and three full games after dislocating his knee cap against then-No. 16 Ohio State — a game the Knights ended up winning.

A co-captain on the team, Omoruyi’s absence was felt on the court, as Rutgers lost the following three games by an averaged combined score of 20 points. But in his 25 minutes on the floor, Omoruyi, who was visibly limping and unable to explode off his left leg, had 8 points and six rebounds.

“I’m not 100 percent obviously yet, but I feel like just coming out here and showing my leadership to the guys and show them to fight, I felt like that helped us,” Omoruyi said.

Despite the win, the Knights continue to prove how inconsistent they can be, losing to teams they should beat, but upsetting teams like Ohio State and now Nebraska. 

Some of that has to do with lack of focus and how young the team is, but wins like these can only serve as experience.

“I feel like sometimes we get off track,” Omoruyi said. “I feel like we can do this against any team, not just the big games.”

Even though Rutgers leaned on its talented freshmen late in the game, Pikiell called it a great team win as everyone on the court stepped up, including sophomore guard Geo Baker who had 16 points thanks to a 3-4 shooting night from 3 in a team-high 37 minutes.

But it was Mathis, who started in his 10th straight game, who led all scorers with 20 points.

“I thought our crowd was awesome, the students, even though school doesn’t start until (Tuesday), were loud … (made) the RAC a tough place to play. I’m proud of these guys, we played a terrific basketball team … Great team win for us tonight,” Pikiell said.

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