Rutgers has enjoyed the smoothest possible start to its season. Temple, on the other hand, has already ridden a roller coaster of emotions in a season that’s three games old.
Rutgers will look to remain unbeaten and Temple will hope to find some stability Friday afternoon, when the former conference rivals are slated to renew their series in a game in Uncasville, Conn.
Rutgers hasn’t played since Saturday, when the Scarlet Knights fended off UMass Lowell, 73-65. Temple suffered its second overtime loss of the season Tuesday, when the Owls fell to Vanderbilt, 89-87.
The neutral-site game Friday will mark the first time either school has ventured away from home this season. It will also signify a leap in competition for Rutgers (3-0), which has trailed for only 79 seconds — all against Sacred Heart, which held a trio of brief leads in the first three minutes of the Scarlet Knights’ 88-50 win on Nov. 10 — in defeating a trio of mid-major foes.
Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell told the Asbury Park Press he initially hoped to play perennial Final Four contender Gonzaga in Seattle this month, but it fell through when the Bulldogs committed to playing Michigan State in the Armed Forces Classic on Nov. 11.
Finding a once-familiar foe to play, albeit about 170 miles away from the Scarlet Knights’ campus in Piscataway, N.J., ended up being much more tenable.
“It’s a jigsaw puzzle,” Pikiell told the newspaper about nonconference scheduling. “Playing a one-off at a neutral site has become a solution to the problem.”
The problems might be starting for Temple (1-2), which opened its season Nov. 7 with a 76-73 overtime loss to mid-major Wagner before stunning crosstown rival Villanova four nights later, when fans stormed the court at The Liacouras Center following a 68-64 win — the Owls’ first victory over the Wildcats since Dec. 5, 2012.
But Khalif Battle, who had 37 points in the first two games of the season, scored two points while playing 19 minutes Tuesday.
“I just played the guys who I felt wanted to be out there,” Temple head coach Aaron McKie said.
Later Tuesday night, Battle tweeted out the crying-while-laughing emoji in response to someone quoting McKie. Battle has since deleted the tweet.
Cam Spencer (16.7 points per game) leads four Rutgers players averaging in double figures. Clifford Omoruyi is averaging a double-double (16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds per game).
Temple also has four players averaging in double figures, with Damian Dunn (29.7 points per game) leading the way after he scored a career-high 38 points against Vanderbilt. Jamille Reynolds is averaging 12.0 points and a team-high 7.0 rebounds per game.
Temple leads the all-time series between the schools, 33-19. This is their first game since Jan. 29, 2014, when the Owls earned an 88-82 win. The 2013-14 campaign was Rutgers’ first and only season in the American before moving to the Big 10.
–Field Level Media