With what seemed to be a boring game from an outsider’s view, Rutgers fans were able to catch a glimpse of something truly special.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights first game of the 2020-2021 season was a convincing 86-63 win over the Sacred Heart Pioneers (Still kind of wished they covered the spread though). While the opponent isn’t a Big Ten foe, there was plenty to be impressed with last night.
When the 2019-2020 season was robbed from Rutgers due to COVID-19, expectations were already sky-high. Their first tournament team in decades was poised to make noise and figured to rejuvenate a lackluster program for the most part of the decade. While we cannot dwell on the past, this year campaign has the potential to be even more historic with their first preseason AP Poll appearance since 1978; it truly is 2020. What could we expect from this Rutgers team? Well if you were able to watch the game on BTN+ (which is a disgrace considering they’re a nationally ranked team and not on any cable television) the high-flying Ron Harper Jr. and Cliff Omoruyi made their presence felt as both notched double-doubles.
The biggest surprise of the night was having freshman and top 50 recruit Cliff Omoruyi get the starting nod over seasoned junior Myles Johnson. If you’re an avid Rutgers fan however we know Myles the Monster gets in a bit of foul trouble so Coach Pikell might try to mitigate that early on in the season. But holy cow did Big Cliff have a heck of a debut. From the opening tip, the highly touted freshman jumped out of the TV screen with high-flying boards and ferocious slams. What we saw was only a glimpse of what he would provide for this team as he is capable of doing this against stout competition.
The willingness to work in the paint for Ron Harper Jr. and have his way against smaller defenders paid dividends for the Preseason Julius Erving Award watch list junior. He was able to connect on a couple of aggressive alley-oops and back down defenders in the post for midrange jumpers. While the three-point shot wasn’t there for anyone really, the inside presence was no match for Scared Heart and Ron Harper Jr. was able to score comfortably in the paint.
Paul Mulcahy was night and day compared to his freshman season a year ago. Not only was he aggressive shooting the ball, but the command of the offense and willingness to play defense at an elite level also reminded me of Aaron Craft the former standout from Ohio St. Mulcahy’s presence alone was unmatched and something the Scarlet Knights needed in the absence of captain Geo Baker. With 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists Paul’s debut was perfect. Not missing a field goal in this game was huge for his confidence moving forward and there is no doubt he could be this type of player going into Big Ten play.
Now for some bad news. The Geo Baker injury stayed on par with how 2020 has treated every person in this country. IN THE FIRST TEN MINUTES Baker sprained his ankle forcing him out of the action and on crutches. An uneasy sight for Rutgers fans to say the least. the only positive you can take from this is that it’s not game 30 and just game 1. So potentially, Baker could be back just in time for the biggest non-conference game of the year against Syracuse on December 8th. In Geo we trust and having a clutch playmaker like Geo back out on the court allows spacing out the offense and creates open looks for everyone. We wish Geo a speedy recovery.
One last point I will make and Twitter was buzzing about this last night. I would not put too much stock into the shooting struggles of last night. Shooting 1-8 from 3 and 5-15 from the line is quite terrible yes. However, this is foreign territory for everyone. Sacred Heart did not shoot the ball well. Being that it is their first game in literally 8 months with no fans in attendance was different for everybody. I expect them to improve in this area dramatically as the season continues onward. I would also like to shout out Coach Pikell for what an outstanding job he has done with this program. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t even have attempted to write a piece like this. Rutgers has endured epic failures in many of their major sports of the past decade and to finally have something to care about is incredible. The Northeast is dying to have a team emerge with the falloffs from UCONN and Syracuse. Rutgers is that team. They are here to stay and Steve Pikell will continue to work his tail off to give us an incredible product on the court.
As always, keep choppin.