The season opener for the Rutgers men’s basketball team wasn’t much of a test, as the Division III CCNY Beavers were severely overmatched as soon as the opening tip was made. With a roster comprised of just three players taller than 6’2” and none standing above 6’5, Rutgers physically dominated the visitors. The Scarlet Knights predictably had their way inside and cruised to a 94-38 victory.
Rutgers had a field day in the paint, holding a 60 to 20 rebounding edge, including 16 to 3 on the offensive glass. The Scarlet Knights shot 61.3% from the field overall, including 36 of 45 attempts in two-point range for a ridiculous 80%. One concern entering this season was whether would be a better shooting team and despite the eye popping numbers in the paint, that fear was not alleviated tonight. Rutgers was just 2 of 17 from behind the arc for a dismal 12%. The team struggled from the free throw line as well, making just 16 of 32 attempts for 50%. It should be noted that the starting lineup made all ten of their free throw attempts, including Issa Thiam making 5 of 5. It was the bench that struggled, as newcomer Souf Mensah was just 1 of 7, Shaq Doorson went 3 for 6, Eugene Omoruyi was 1 of 3 and Candido Sa went 0 for 2.
Sophomore wing Issa Thiam started with senior captain Mike Williams sitting out as a precaution after suffering a minor injury in the exhibition win over St. John’s last Sunday. Issa took full advantage and overwhelmed CCNY, who couldn’t defend the 6’10 wing at any point during the game. He looked much improved on the offensive end and attacked the rim more than he did in any game last season. His bigger physique and more aggressive mindset was highlighted by an impressive baseline drive in the first half, when he made the basket and was fouled, finishing a three-point play from the free throw line. Issa finished with a career high 19 points, leading all scorers, and produced the first double-double of his career, grabbing 11 rebounds, also a team high.
Deshawn Freeman picked up where he left off after his impressive performance against St. John's and was dominant in this game. He had a perfect shooting night, making all seven of his field goal attempts and both shots from the charity stripe for 16 points. Freeman also added 6 boards, 3 steals, 2 assists, and 1 block, with almost all of his stats coming in the first half. This alley-oop in transition on a pass from freshman Geo Baker was a highlight in the game.
(Alley) oop there it is. pic.twitter.com/U4iAXHzyQK— Rutgers On BTN (@RutgersOnBTN) November 11, 2017
Like Freeman, star Corey Sanders didn't play much after halftime and finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. It was the first official game we saw Sanders share a backcourt with Geo Baker, who handled the rock a good portion of the game. Baker was solid, scoring 10 points on 5 of 9 shooting from the field, along with 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal. The negatives were Baker was 0 of 4 from three-point range and committed 5 turnovers. Nerves likely contributed to Baker struggling in those areas and it's clear he will be a major contributor this season. Fellow freshman starter, big man Mamadou Doucoure, had 6 points and 5 rebounds while committing just 1 foul.
It was nice to see the walk-on's in the program get a lot action in this game. Point guard Jake Dadika saw minutes in the first half, while Pikiell played them all in the second half. Dadika had two points, while guard Joey Downes scored the first points of his career with a three-pointer. Freshman center Luke Nathan also saw time and scored 3 points.
One other roster note, the announcers on BTN Plus said coach Pikiell told them before the game he was holding freshman center Myles Johnson out of the game because a decision has not been made on whether he will redshirt or not this season. The only other scholarship player besides Johnson and Williams not to play was sophomore guard Matt Bullock.
To be honest, there isn't a whole lot that can be taken from this game. I'm thrilled the season has finally begun and I'm excited about what this team can achieve this season. However, the talent difference in this game makes it difficult to compile any true takeaways. They took care of business and did what they needed to do. Rutgers has a quick recovery time, as they'll welcome Central Connecticut State to the RAC on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m, followed by a Tuesday night game against Cleveland State. We will learn more about this team in the next few days
Four players score in double-figures for Rutgers - Issa Thiam (19), Deshawn Freeman (16), Corey Sanders (12) and Geo Baker (10). #KnightAndDay— Rutgers Basketball (@RutgersMBB) November 11, 2017
Final stats: pic.twitter.com/XvFVM1VCq5