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Rutgers seeks to build upon league-best home record in next matchup with Michigan

The Rutgers men’s basketball team still remains the best home team in the country. 

The Scarlet Knights (18-8, 9-6) defeated Illinois at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Saturday. The Fighting Illini (16-9, 8-6) bumped down to sixth in the Big Ten with the loss against Rutgers. They also got knocked out of the AP Poll Top 25 rankings.

The final score of that contest was 72-57, with the Knights outscoring Illinois 38-25 in the second half alone. Sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. contributed to the win with 27 points. He shot 11 of 14 from the field and 5 of 5 from beyond the arc. 

Alongside Harper Jr., two other Rutgers players scored in double figures as well. Graduate student forward Akwasi Yeboah and junior guard Geo Baker both finished with 12 points in the winning effort. Head coach Steve Pikiell shared his thoughts on Harper Jr.’s big night and the team’s sense of togetherness as well. 

"They embrace each other's success. I love that part of this team. (Harper Jr.) had one of those days ... I liked the way we got him the basketball and moved him around the court," Pikiell said. "But I really liked our defense quite honestly and I liked his defense, too, in the basketball game ... It was (Harper Jr.'s) night and we got him the basketball and I think that's what makes us a good team."

Now sitting at 17-0 at home, the Knights still have the best home record in the country. Some of those wins have come against notable teams like Seton Hall, Purdue, Indiana and now the Fighting Illini. Pikiell shared his thoughts on the upcoming matchup with Michigan and having the best home record in the nation. 

"We got Michigan coming up. We're trying to go 1-0 with that one. These guys are why we're 17-0. They've sacrificed, they've played the defense and they don't care who starts," Pikiell said. "(Baker) was coming off the bench for a lot of games. I think that's really a big part of it. They're just happy. They want to win and they want to be connected."

Rutgers will take on the Wolverines (16-9, 7-7) in the RAC tomorrow. Michigan is coming off an 89-65 home win against the Hoosiers (16-9, 6-8). Some of the players that had notable performances point-wise for the Wolverines in the contest were Franz Wagner (16 points), Brandon Johns Jr. (14 points) and Eli Brooks (13 points).

Michigan and the Knights last matched up on Feb. 1 at Madison Square Garden. The matchup ended in a Wolverines win and a career night from Johns Jr., who erupted with 20 points. 

Michigan has also struggled while playing away games this season. Although being 4-0 in neutral territory, the Wolverines are just 2-5 when playing on the road. The only two wins they captured on the road were against Nebraska and Northwestern, the two worst teams in the Big Ten this year.

Rutgers players to keep an eye out for in the next matchup are Harper Jr. and Baker. After a scoring outburst, expect Harper Jr. to capitalize off this rhythm he has gotten himself into. Baker, on the other hand, found himself reinserted into the starting lineup against Illinois. After scoring in double-figures, keep an eye out for him to make the starting lineup once again. 

The Knights match up with Michigan is tomorrow at 7 p.m at the RAC. 

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

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