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NCAAB: Rutgers returns from lengthy break to host Maine

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Rutgers’ season took its latest sharp turn earlier this month when the team’s COVID-19 outbreak led to three games being canceled or rescheduled.

Coach Steve Pikiell hopes his players’ legs will be back under them when the Scarlet Knights return from a 17-day layoff Thursday afternoon to host Maine in Piscataway, N.J.

Rutgers (5-5) last played Dec. 12 when it lost to then-No. 23 Seton Hall, 77-63, a bit of a letdown three days after the Scarlet Knights stunned then-No. 1 Purdue on a last-second, 40-foot heave.

Jersey Mike’s Arena has been still ever since. A game against in-state opponent Rider was canceled, a meeting with Central Connecticut State was postponed from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, and the Maine game was pushed back from Wednesday evening to Thursday.

Pikiell told reporters that several Rutgers players spent Christmas in COVID-19 quarantine. Though very few of them displayed symptoms, the coach was worried about their mental health along with their conditioning from being cooped up.

“People don’t have any idea how hard this is, especially with asymptomatic guys,” Pikiell said.

He added that Rutgers could be at full strength Thursday if the remaining COVID-19 tests work out in its favor.

Maine (3-7) is still in search of its first win over a Division I opponent this season. The Black Bears have beaten three regional opponents from lower divisions: Maine-Farmington, Maine-Fort Kent and the University of New England.

They had their best offensive output of the season Dec. 18 against New England, when they shot 52.3 percent from the field in an 86-50 victory. All 13 players who got into the game found the hoop.

“It’s good to get the rust off coming out of final exams, and it’s nice to see the ball go through the basket,” Maine coach Richard Barron said, per the Bangor Daily News.

That didn’t carry into Maine’s most recent game, against Merrimack and its zone defense on Dec. 21. Maine fell 49-47.

Ron Harper Jr. leads Rutgers in both scoring (15.8 points) and rebounding (7.9 per game).

Vukasin Masic does a little bit of everything for Maine, averaging 9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

–Field Level Media

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