Teams from the Big Ten and Colonial Athletic Association don’t normally have a lot in common.
But a pair of squads with an unusual appreciation for what the other has experienced this year will face off Sunday afternoon, when Rutgers is scheduled to host Hofstra in the first game between the metropolitan New York rivals in almost 20 years.
No. 24 Rutgers (2-0) will look to continue thriving against local competition and make its case to remain in the top 25. The Scarlet Knights remained unbeaten Friday night with a 96-75 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. Junior guard Ron Harper Jr. scored a career-high 30 points.
Rutgers, which was ranked in the preseason top 25 for the first time since 1978-79, opened its season Wednesday with an 86-63 win over Sacred Heart.
Hofstra will be playing its season opener. The Pride, picked to finish first in the CAA, were scheduled to play Monmouth on Wednesday night, but the matchup was canceled after the Monmouth program had a positive coronavirus test.
Hofstra hasn’t played since March 10, when the Pride beat Northeastern 70-61 in the CAA championship game. The win locked up the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2001, but players and staff had fewer than two days to bask in the afterglow before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the pandemic.
“We get there, we’re on top of ladders and cutting down nets and celebrating on the court that night in Washington D.C., it was just amazing — and then less than 48 hours later it all comes tumbling down,” said acting Hofstra head coach Mike Farrelly, who is coaching in place of Joe Mihalich while the latter is on medical leave. “Very, very difficult at that time. But we were at least able to have that moment.”
Rutgers thought it was on the verge of enjoying a moment even longer in the making. The Scarlet Knights, who haven’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 1991, were in line to at least get an at-large bid by going 20-11 and finishing tied for fifth in the Big Ten.
Head coach Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights, who were on a plane back from the canceled Big Ten Tournament when the NCAA Tournament was canceled, sought solace in laying the groundwork for the long-awaited achievement.
“We had two words on our wall all year long: 3/15/20 and sacrifice,” Pikiell said on March 13, referring to the scheduled date for Selection Sunday. “And we accomplished those things.”
Harper is averaging a team-high 24 points and seven rebounds per game, the latter tying him for the team lead with Clifford Omoruyi. Jacob Young is averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 assists per game.
Hofstra’s top returning scorers are senior Jalen Ray (11.9 ppg last season), junior Isaac Kante (11.4 ppg) and senior Tareq Coburn (10.6 ppg). Kante led the Pride last season with 7.7 rebounds per game.
Hofstra leads the all-time series 3-2. The two schools, located about 60 miles apart, last played on Dec. 26, 2000, when Hofstra, then nicknamed the Flying Dutchmen, beat the Scarlet Knights 58-52 in the ECAC Holiday Festival.
–Field Level Media