Rutgers, NJIT bring rare familiarity to early matchup

NCAA Men's Basketball

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell and New Jersey Institute of Technology coach Brian Kennedy shouldn’t have any problem preparing their teams for their game at Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J. on Tuesday.

That’s because both have been watching tape of each other’s teams for a while now.

Rutgers and NJIT are part of a scheduling round-robin of four teams in which the Scarlet Knights (2-0), as the power-conference team, host the other three. Thus, in this young season, Rutgers and the Highlanders already have faced two common opponents, Lehigh and Merrimack.

Rutgers struggled to get by both low-major foes, getting taken to overtime by Lehigh in its opener and rallying from a seven-point halftime deficit on Saturday to thwart the deliberate tactics of Merrimack.

“Yeah, you don’t want to get off to slow starts like that, but I do like the grind,” Pikiell said after the 48-35 victory over Merrimack on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights trailed at halftime in both games.

He added, “We’re learning a lot of lessons. We’ve got film. (We’ve) just got to keep grinding.”

The Scarlet Knights shot only 31.3 percent from the field in that game, but got a lift from freshman Jaden Jones, who scored nine points off the bench.

“(Jones) hasn’t flinched,” Pikiell said. “We keep seeing him get better and better and better, and what I really liked was his work defensively.”

Transfer Aundre Hyatt, mostly an afterthought at LSU, is averaging eight points over two games off the bench.

NJIT (1-1), meanwhile, lost its opener to Merrimack by seven but then routed Lehigh by 17 two days later.

The Highlanders are currently paced in scoring and rebounding by Miles Coleman, who averages 17.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg.

In the first game, the Highlanders perhaps were still feeling the effects of losing star guard Zach Cooks, who transferred to Hofstra and already has made an impact there. Against Lehigh, Dylan O’Hearn scored 23 points and junior-college transfer James Lee added 17.

“James was terrific,” Kennedy said. “I know he can be a great player, and I challenged him at the first media timeout tonight. He had a steal and dunk in the first half. (That) got him going and his confidence took off from there.”

–Field Level Media

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