Rutgers basketball rolling through first three games

Rutgers basketball rolling through first three games

College basketball season has arrived and Rutgers is once again looking to treat fans to a post-season berth in the NCAA Tournament. On Saturday, Rutgers knocked off a feisty UMass-Lowell team at home by a final of 73-65. It was not the same type of blowout win Rutgers scored in its first two games against Columbia and Sacred Heart, winning by 40 and 38 points respectively. However, Rutgers never trailed and held a double-digit lead for about half the game.

“Everyone wants you to play every game and have it be a 45-point win and it’s not reality,” head coach Steve Pikiell told reporters after the win. “UMass-Lowell is going to win 20 to 25 games this year. You hit adversity, injuries, Caleb [McConnell] been out, today we had a freshman in this situation for the first time. Derek [Simpson] played unbelievable, going 10-for-10 at the foul line. (Antwone) Woolfolk, the first time he’s been in these types of games, Aundre [Hyatt] kept balls alive, he didn’t play for us a ton last year. You know every year is a different journey. The veteran guys kind of understand how important every game is. But you’re not going to play great every game that’s part of the journey. We figured how to win today against a good basketball team. I’m pleased.”

McConnell has missed the first three games as he continues to nurse a knee issue, but could make his debut this coming Friday against Temple. Mulcahy’s status is still up in the air after hurting his shoulder in the season opener against Columbia. He played through the injury in game No.2 against Sacred Heart, but managed just nine minutes against UMass-Lowell. A prolonged absence would mean a bigger role for Simpson, who is averaging 10.3 points through the first three games.

“We want to keep getting better,” Simpson yesterday. “Every practice we want to keep building and building on each game. We won, but we are moving on and we have a great few challenges in the next few weeks. I am excited to do it all with my teammates.”

The start of the season is quite a contrast to the last season. Rutgers started the 2021-22 campaign needing an overtime period to knock off a Lehigh team that finished with a 13-19 overall record. That led to a tightly-contested second win of the season against Merrimack, who also ended with a losing record at 14-16. Game No.3 for Rutgers last season was a 75-61 win over NJIT.

So while both versions of the Scarlet Knights started out 3-0, these latest wins were far more impressive and much less worrisome. However, game No.4 is where things started to trend downward last season. A loss at DePaul gave way to a pair of losses to Lafayette and UMass. The next game for these Scarlet Knights could also be a pivotal one as it will take place on a neutral court in Connecticut against Temple.

“Temple just beat Villanova so we will be tested there,” Pikiell said. “If you keep climbing through obstacles and tests, we are in store for a great season.”

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