PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Steve Pikiell thinks the question of whether center Cliff Omoruyi can fill the void left by Myles Johnson can be put to rest.
Omoruyi had 16 points with nine rebounds and Ron Harper Jr. had 14 points with 10 rebounds to lead Rutgers past Lehigh 73-70 in overtime in a season opener on Wednesday night.
“We don’t have to have any more talk about the five spot,” coach Pikiell said of his 6-foot-11, 240-pound sophomore. “I think we’re in very good hands. I love this guy. He’s as good a worker as we’ve ever had in the program. He’s getting better and better every day.”
Omoruyi had a pair of dunks in overtime, one coming on Rutgers’ first possession to put the Scarlet Knights up 65-63, and they never looked back.
Lehigh led by as many as seven, 36-29, late in the first half when Jake Betlow made a 3-pointer assisted by Marques Wilson.
Rutgers went into the half trailing 36-31.
Paul Mulcahy made a layup at 18:17 to tie it at 37. Rutgers would retake the lead at 41-40 on a Geo Baker jumper at 16:41. It was the Scarlet Knight’s first lead since 10-9 early in the first half, and they would not trail until Lehigh took the lead, 62-61, on a layup by Ben Knotsman with 1:34 remaining.
Baker would tie the game at 63 on a stepback jumper with 45 seconds left.
“We just ran a little zero play, and I just go to my spot,” Baker said.
Baker, who has a history of making big shots for Rutgers, missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer on an isolation play to send the game to overtime.
“I think everyone thought it was going in for sure,” Baker said. “I was telling the dude when I was dribbling it that I was going to make it.”
Lehigh was led by Wilson, who had a game-high 21 points. Rutgers was 1-of-13 from beyond the arc.
“I thought we had some good looks, and we’re gonna have to make those,” Pikiell said. “But I like that we still figured out a way to win a basketball game early in the season.”
Rutgers unveiled its 2021 Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament appearance banner in front of a sold-out crowd at Jersey Mike’s Arena. Last year’s tournament appearance was Rutgers’ first in 30 years, and the win vs. Clemson in the first round was the first win in the tournament since 1983.