It was another slow start against an inferior opponent for the Rutgers men's basketball team on Sunday. Poor shooting was the biggest reason that the Scarlet Knights only went to halftime leading Coppin State 28-22. While the visiting Eagles put together two separate 9-0 runs in the opening frame, Rutgers played well defensively and held them to just 29% shooting from the floor. However, Rutgers had its own struggles, shooting only 31% from the field and a frustrating 5 of 13 (39%) effort from the free throw line in the first half. Settling for jump shots and unable to finish contested shots in the paint were also a problem.
The effort of this team is not an issue and Rutgers had too much talent and athleticism for Coppin State to be a serious threat, winning comfortably, 64-39. It was the third opponent in four games that Rutgers has now held to under 40 points. Coppin State shot just 29% on the day and Rutgers held a +16 edge on the boards (52 to 36), as well as a +9 edge on turnovers (17 to 8).
The Scarlet Knights did struggle mightily from the field though, as shooting continues to be an issue early on this season. Rutgers was just 24 of 66 from the floor for 36.4%, an ugly 2 of 17 from three-point range (11.8%) and were poor again from the charity stripe, making only 14 of 28 attempts for a subpar 50% performance. Again, the defense and effort were there, but this team's inability to shoot the basketball in an efficient manner is holding them back. This could have easily been a 40+ point victory. It doesn't really matter in this game, but it's certainly a concern once Rutgers starts playing high major teams.
Coppin State fell behind 7-2 to start the game, but jumped out to an early four point lead behind a 9-0 run off of three makes behind the arc. After trailing 11-7 at the under-12 timeout, Rutgers refocused its attack by driving to the rim, where the visiting Eagles had trouble defending. It spurned a 17-2 run and the Scarlet Knights had its largest lead of the game up 13 points. However, they allowed another 9-0 run and went to the half leading by only 6 points. The Scarlet Knights responded with a more complete effort after the break and the issue was never really in doubt. Coppin State had three players, including two starters, foul out in the second half.
Sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi did a great job providing energy and purpose off the bench and scored 8 points in the first half. He continued his solid play after the break and finished with a game high 19 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field, as well as 8 rebounds and 3 assists. The only blip in his game today was a frustrating 5 of 12 performance from the free throw line, although he did make 3 of his last 4 attempts. Even so, his ability to provide a spark off the bench this season is essential for Rutgers as the competition ramps up soon.
Corey Sanders came off the bench for the first time all season and it took him a while to get going, as he made just 2 of his first 9 shots in the game. However, he started finding holes in the Coppin State defense and began getting closer looks to the baskets, making three shots in a row during a stretch that saw Rutgers build an 8 point lead to 22 points behind a 23-9 run that put the game to bed in the second half. Sanders finished the game with 13 points on 5 of 13 shooting, as well as 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Check out this great baseline drive and dunk for the finish.
Deshawn Freeman was solid in delivering a 10 point, 7 rebound, 2 block performance. He had a couple noteworthy highlights in the game as well.
Frontcourt mate Mamadou Doucoure didn't take a shot from the floor, but made 2 of 4 free throw's and grabbed 8 rebounds in the game.
The rest of the backcourt did not dominate the way you would hope they would in this matchup, but this group is an example of being in a work of progress this early in the season. Newcomer Souf Mensah hasn't made much of an impact in limited minutes off the bench. Freshman Geo Baker has had typical up's and down's expected in his first college action, but you can see him getting better each game. He finished with 11 points on 5 of 10 shooting, as well as 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Mike Williams continues to be a rock steady presence, whether he comes off the bench like he did in his first two games this season, or starts like he did today. He did struggle shooting today, including 0 for 6 from behind the arc, but did contribute with 4 rebounds and 2 blocks.
One point of note is that coach Pikiell really shortened the bench in this game, as only seven players saw the majority of the minutes. Aside from Omoruyi and Sanders playing a lot off the bench, only Candido Sa and Souf Mensah saw time in limited action until the end of the game. After playing 10 or more players on a regular basis during the non-conference slate last season, Pikiell has already begun tightening up his rotation with Big Ten play beginning sooner than a year ago.
Rutgers is now 4-0 on the young season and have another short turnaround, as they'll welcome Bryant (0-3) to the RAC on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs have lost to two high major programs already in N.C. State and Georgia by 20+ points this season. Hopefully, the Scarlet Knights can show improvement by asserting more definitive control in the early going of that game, something this team has continued to struggle with so far this season. The schedule ramps up soon, as Rutgers is less than 10 days away from a three game, one week stretch against Florida State, at #14 Minnesota, and #2 Michigan State.
Watch coach Pikiell discuss the game, including his challenge to Corey Sanders and why he came off the bench.