Rutgers opened the season Wednesday night as the 24th-ranked team in the country, a generally unfamiliar position for a once-dormant program. The Scarlet Knights played like big favorites in rolling over Sacred Heart, and Friday they'll try to maintain that look in a home game against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Rutgers will look to build on its early season momentum after its 86-63 triumph, while Fairleigh Dickinson (0-2) fell to host Quinnipiac, 84-66.
Rutgers is ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 1978-79. Last year, the Scarlet Knights went 20-11 and had put themselves in position to snap the school's 29-year NCAA Tournament drought before the tournament was canceled. Wednesday, they never trailed against Sacred Heart.
Junior guard Ron Harper Jr. (18 points) led five players in double figures for Rutgers, which had nine players score as it had to rely on its depth earlier than expected due to the loss of senior point guard Geo Baker. Baker, the first Scarlet Knights player ever named to preseason All-Big 10 team, scored one point before he suffered a left ankle injury midway through the first half. He is not expected to play Friday.
"We hate to have any of our players out, especially Geo, but guys stepped up and they're going to have to," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. "Guys have opportunities now and hopefully they'll keep taking advantage of those opportunities and when he comes back, we'll be even better."
Fairleigh Dickinson, which plays in the Northeast Conference alongside Sacred Heart, had its depth challenged in unexpected fashion before tipoff Wednesday, when guards Devon Dunn and Xzavier Malone-Key decided to opt out of the season. While Dunn plans to return next season, Malone-Key is entering the transfer portal.
Fairleigh Dickinson led the Bobcats for much of the first half on Wednesday, but Quinnipiac closed on a 9-0 run to take a 42-35 at halftime. The Knights trailed by double digits for the final 16:41.
Sophomore Brandon Rush (21 points) and senior forward Elyjah Williams (19 points) were the only players to score in double figures for Fairleigh Dickinson.
"First and foremost, it was an accomplishment just getting back on the court and playing together for the first time," Fairleigh Dickinson coach Greg Herenda said. "I was so happy for our players to get the chance to put on a uniform and compete. All of our players deserve a ton of credit for persevering through a great deal just to get to this point."
Rutgers leads the all-time series 14-2 and has won the last five games in the series, which pits schools located about 43 miles apart. Fairleigh Dickinson earned its most recent win over its New Jersey rival on Nov. 26, 2013 with a 73-72 victory.
--Field Level Media