Unlike in the season opening victory over Fairleigh Dickinson that saw Rutgers trailing midway through the first quarter, they never relinquished the lead in this game. The Scarlet Knights came out with authority, led by point guard Geo Baker, who knocked down two jumpers and finished another near the rim before the first media timeout. Rutgers led 14-7 just under five minutes into the action to establish control in the game. Drexel did a good job of hanging around and cut the lead to three points early in the second half. However, the Scarlet Knights ultimately pulled away to win going away 95-66.
The new look offense continued to shine, as Rutgers made 5 of its first 6 three-point shot attempts, included Issa Thiam making all three attempts in the first half. It propelled them to a commanding 29-16 lead at the midway point of the opening frame. However, Drexel battled back and Rutgers was a little sloppy and went to the break with the lead cut to 7 points at 44-37. While Rutgers shot 52% from the floor and made 7 of 8 from the free throw line, they committed 9 turnovers and the defense was not strong. Drexel shot 48% from the floor in the first half and held a 15-3 edge in fast break points.
Drexel came out firing in the second half, scoring two quick baskets and the lead was down to three just two minutes in. Rutgers responded with a 11-2 run behind Eugene Omoruyi’s second three-pointer of the game to this point. He extended the lead to 61-48 with his third from deep, which led to Drexel calling a timeout. Baker hit his second deep ball soon after and Rutgers was cruising up 68-50 with just 12 minutes remaining in the game. Peter Kiss then made his first trey of the game and the Scarlet Knights led by 20, having made 10 of 18 from behind the arc at that point in the contest. They were in the midst of making seven consecutive shots as a team and grew the lead to 23 points midway in the second half. They won by 29 overall. It’s the first time ever Rutgers has opened a season with back to back 90 point games and the first time they’ve done so against consecutive Division I opponents since 1991. Still, head coach Steve Pikiell was harping on the need to improve defensively after the game.
“The guys know, after the game we do not really talk about points. We talk about our defense and have to get better on that end of the floor”, said Pikiell. He continued, “We have a lot of guys with good length. Eugene has worked hard, Geo has worked hard, every guy that came back has worked on something on their offense and the young guys can do some different things. So we are pleased for that but, we need to continue to work on defense.”
Eugene Omoruyi was fantastic in this game, leading the way with a game high 24 points on 8 of 12 from the floor, including a perfect 4 of 4 from three-point range. After shooting just 0 of 5 from deep all of last season, Omoruyi has started this campaign 6 of 7 from behind the arc. He made it a point to talk about how much work he put in on his shot this offseason and the results are stunning so far. Gene also added 10 rebounds for his second double-double, as well as 2 assists and 1 steal.
Baker set the tone for the offense from the opening tip and was a force in this game, making 9 of 16 shots, including 2 of 4 from deep for 20 points. He also dished out 6 assists and grabbed 3 rebounds. He is the clear floor leader for Rutgers and it has been a big boon for the offense through two games.
Peter Kiss followed up his 17 point effort in his Rutgers debut with a perfect shooting night, making all four of his attempts from the floor and the free throw line. He finished with 13 points and added 4 rebounds. His athleticism gives Rutgers a weapon they didn’t have last season.
Issa Thiam continues to pick his spots and has made at least three three-pointers in both games so far this season. He made 4 of 6 from deep in this game and finished with 14 points on 5 of 7 from the field. Issa continues to be an efficient offensive player and is looking like the best three-point shooter on the team, which means more this season so far. He added 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals, continuing to be one of the best defenders on the team.
Other notable performances included:
- Montez Mathis scoring 10 points, including 2 of 4 from three-point range
- Ron Harper Jr. was just 2 of 8 from the floor for 5 points, but dished out 5 assists and committed just 1 turnover.
- Myles Johnson continues to be a Swiss Army knife, scoring 4 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, as well as 2 blocks and 2 assists.
As a team, Rutgers shot 52% from the floor in the game, including 14 of 26 from three-point range for 54%. It was the most RU has made in a game since they had 15 against Syracuse in 2006. On the young season, the Scarlet Knights are shooting an incredible 26 of 46 from behind the arc for 56.5%, a stunning turnaround from last year.
“They are really sharing the ball, these guys have multi skills now”, Pikiell said. He added, “We have a lot of guys that can shoot, pass, and dribble. We have some inside guys and a couple of rim protectors. They have worked hard and I am proud of them and my staff, but these guys put in their hours. They are gym all the time and have gotten better. They have gotten stronger, faster, and played well together. Tthe young guys have added some dimensions. Ron (Harper Jr.), Montez (Mathis), Caleb (McConnell), and Peter (Kiss) can shoot, so we have added some pieces.”
In addition, Rutgers held a +13 rebounding margin, a +5 turnover margin, and 12 point edge with points in the paint. They continued to share the basketball well as a team, handing out 19 assists on 33 field goals. Defense is still a work in progress and was downright bad at times in this game, but this team has shown a lot of promise early on offensively.
Up next, Rutgers returns to the RAC on Friday night for a showdown with old Big East rival St. John’s as part of the Gavitt Games. The Johnnies visited last year for a charity exhibition that Rutgers won at the buzzer. This time it will count and St. John’s has NCAA Tournament aspirations. This matchup will tell us quite a bit about how good this Rutgers team is early on this season. The defense of Rutgers has been a concern so far and will need to be better moving forward, but the offense has been so efficient in two games. Baker and Omoruyi have led the way, as expected, while the newcomers have brought legitimate reasons to be excited about this team. How they perform against St. John’s will be fascinating to watch and it’s officially a big game at the RAC despite it only being mid-November.
To read Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.