Despite Peter Kiss being the only newcomer to be featured in the starting lineup, the rest of this group make up a significant portion of the total roster and an integral piece of the puzzle. Through five games we’ve seen flashes of how talented these newcomers can be but also the growing pains expected with such a new group. Wednesday night the team got its first road test against Miami in what turned out to be a 57-54 upset victory for Rutgers. Lets take a closer look at how the newcomers performed.
Carter did not see any minutes versus Miami. Coming into the game Carter had logged a total of 11 minutes this season. With Eugene Omoruyi taking up the majority of the minutes at forward and Harper seeing more time, my guess would be that Carter is the odd man out at this point. With the tough stretch of games ahead for the team and potential tired legs, we’ll keep an eye out to see if Carter gets some more playing time.
Ron Harper Jr.
Harper entered the game right around the fifteen minute mark alongside Montez Mathis and Myles Johnson. He has struggled shooting the ball from the charity stripe and from the three point line but he always seems to find other ways to contribute. Harper followed a Mathis missed layup with a put back dunk and later in the half ran a beautiful fast break in which he converted with his left hand. Harper showed some great instincts in the second half, grabbing an offensive board and finding a streaking Issa Thiam with a quick pass into the lane. For a guy who wasn’t highly recruited, I think Rutgers got a steal in Harper and a future starter for this team.
Much like Mathis, the redshirt freshman center is very much in the infancy of his development but he did gain some valuable experience against a good Miami team. I think athletically he moves pretty well, and is active around the boards. One of his best plays of the night came half way through the first half when Johnson popped out to the top of the key and immediately hit a streaking Ron Harper Jr. under the basket. Harper missed a contested shot but Johnson showed some great vision for a big man on the play.
Kiss came out of the gate slow missing two three pointers but to be fair, the team in general did not play particularly well to start the game. He did, however, show some hustle getting back defensively to block a fast break layup early. He would end the half on a high note and hit a three pointer with two minutes left. One thing he doesn’t get enough credit for is his defensive ability. Kiss is very active on the defensive end and has great hands as evident by his three steals this game. He also remains one of the teams better shooting options, knocking down a key three pointer in the second half to tie the game at 44-44. He would go on to finish second on the team in scoring with 12 points on 5-10 shooting.
The coveted four star recruit is blessed with all the physical traits to be a success at the college level. He struggled at times versus Miami but during the first half followed up a missed three and turnover with a steal and pass break-up. He also showed great awareness passing up a drive to the basket for a pull up mid-range shot that he made. Mathis had a nice drive to the basket during the second half where he was able to drop in a layup while being fouled but was not able to convert the free throw. Despite his numbers not jumping off the page, games like these are very much integral to his progress going forward.
McConnell serves an extremely important role as the backup point guard for Geo Baker. As important as Baker is to the success of this team, Coach Pikiell needs to preserve the sophomore guard as the college basketball season is a long one. McConnell entered the game for the first time at the 15:55 mark in the second half but was taken out a short time later. We’re still talking about a true freshman playing in only the sixth game of the season. Coach Pikiell will rely on McConnell to serve as a game manager when Baker is off the court.
I was ready to lose my mind if that shot at the last second went in. As Rutgers fans, we’re basically programmed to not count a win until we see all zeros on the clock. But this was an excellent win for Rutgers. The players above accounted for 22 of the 57 points or roughly 38% of the scoring total. The veterans like Geo, Gene, Issa and Shaq Doorson all have have defined roles that are crucial to Rutgers’ success. But remember that those veterans were once like these current newcomers and their development this year could be the difference between a good season and a truly great one.