PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — The most anticipated season in more than a decade almost started with an upset for Rutgers.
Ron Harper Jr. scored 13 points and had six rebounds while Montez Mathis had 11 points and six rebounds in a balanced scoring attack to lead Rutgers past Bryant 73-71 in a season opener on Thursday night.
Adam Grant missed a three-pointer from the right wing in the final seconds as Bryant nearly upset a Big Ten opponent for the first time.
"It says a lot about our program," second-year coach Jared Grasso said. "Two years ago, the guys came down here and lost by 30. Here we are two years later. We're trying to build something. Had a shot to win it at the buzzer. I think the program is moving in the right direction."
The Scarlet Knights didn't have a scorer in double figures until Stony Brook graduate transfer Akwasi Yeboah scored on a free throw to make it 58-45 with 11:21 remaining.
Rutgers' lead ballooned to as many as 16 on a Paul Mulcahy three-pointer with 14:41 left in the second half. Bryant cut the lead to 67-62 after a barrage of three-pointers, capped off by Patrick Harding with 2:58 remaining, then closed to 73-71 after a three-pointer by Charles Pride with 48.2 seconds left.
Rutgers traded leads with Bryant throughout the first ten minutes of the first half before Shaq Carter gave the Scarlet Knights a 13-12 lead with 11:17 left. They never looked back, taking a 38-30 lead into the break.
Bryant was led by Grant with 23 points, six rebounds, and six assists, while Charles Pride had 22 points and seven rebounds.
"We gutted out a win," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. "They made threes, they made shots. We didn't wrap up the game the way I'd like, but we're yonung. Learning experience, and we've got film not to move forward and get better."
Rutgers: Under the direction of fourth-year coach Steve Pikiell and returning six of seven of its top scorers, the Scarlet Knights are entering a season with the most optimism that they've had in a long time. The hope is to make the postseason, which they haven't done since their 2006 NIT appearance. They haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 1991.
Bryant: Picked sixth out of 11 teams in the Northeast Conference preseason poll, the Bulldogs will be led by senior guard Adam Grant, who was named to the NEC preseason all-conference team.
THREE-POINT STRUGGLES AND FREE THROW STRUGGLES
Rutgers had a porous night from beyond the arc, going 9 of 32. That's worse than last year's season average, which was just 31.2 percent. The Scarlet Knights also struggled mightily from the charity stripe, going 18-of-32
Rutgers: Hosts Niagara on Sunday.
Bryant: Hosts Cornell on Sunday.