Get out alive with the victory and get home in one piece. That was the goal and the Rutgers men’s basketball team surely wanted to play better than they did on Saturday in the Bronx against Fordham at historic Rose Hill Gymnasium. However, the Scarlet Knights struggled offensively and played poorly in the second half, falling to Fordham 78-70. It was a disappointing performance for a team that has inspired hope up to this point in the season. We knew there would be ups and downs this season as this group gained experience and this game was the low point in the season so far.
Montez Mathis made the first start of his career, as Issa Thiam missed practice this week with the flu, per the TV announcers at the beginning of the game. It was slow going early on and a back and forth contest, with both teams struggling from the floor. It was tied 12-12 eight minutes into the action and then 16-16 all at the under-eight media timeout. Eugene Omoruyi was carrying Rutgers early, posting 8 points and 5 rebounds at this point in the game.
After Fordham hit a three-pointer to take its first lead of the game, but Geo Baker answered with his own make from deep that sparked an 11-0 run that saw multiple players contribute. Peter Kiss stepped up after missing multiple shots early and finished the first half with 4 points and 7 rebounds. Shaq Carter had two key baskets off the bench as well and Rutgers went to the break leading Fordham 31-26. While they shot just 38% from the field, they held a +12 rebounding margin and an impressive 16-0 edge on second chance points. Fordham was just 4 of 12 from three-point range, but shot 40% overall from the floor.
Out of halftime, Fordham scored two quick baskets and Steve Pikiell called a timeout less than a minute into the second half and Rutgers clinging to a 1 point lead. Geo Baker asserted himself by attacking the rim and making two baskets, but Fordham continued to make a strong push. Rutgers had played a disciplined first half on the defensive end, but the interior defense was sorely lacking at the start of the second half. Fordham was aggressive and started making shots, jumping out to a 42-37 lead with 14-plus minutes left in the game.
Baker continued to keep Rutgers in the game, knocking down a huge three-pointer soon after. However, Fordham’s Nick Honor drained a deep three-pointer to give Fordham a 47-40 lead less than a minute later. After a Carter basket, Baker was then called for a flagrant 1 foul. It was costly, as Nick Honor made both free throws and Fordham got the ball back, but fortunately turned it over.
Rutgers squandered opportunities from the foul line, making just 2 of 5 attempts in the next two minutes to cut the lead to 49-44 midway through the second half. An Omoruyi layup on an assist from Harper Jr. cut the lead to three, but the Rams made two free throws on the other end to push it back to five. Harper Jr. continued to get involved and got to the line himself, but made just one of two. Jalen Cobb then made a big three to push the Fordham lead back to seven at 54-47 with less than nine minutes remaining.
The leaders kept the Scarlet Knights in it, as Baker made two free throws and Omoruyi scored on another layup on an assist from Geo. Rutgers trailed by three points at the under-eight media timeout.
Issa Thiam, who was quiet all game to this point, knocked down two huge free throws for his first points of the day and cut the lead to 1. He then drained a three-pointer to give Rutegrs the lead back and complete a clutch 9-0 run.
Fordham continued to give the Scarlet Knights all they could handle, as Nick Honor continued to shine and his fourth make from deep gave them the lead back at 59-56 with about six minutes left in the game. Soon after, Honor made two free throws to push it back to five, giving him 23 points at this point in the game. He then drained yet another three and Pikiell called timeout with Rutgers trailing 64-56 with 4:32 remaining.
The Rams continued to control the game before Ron Harper Jr. hit a three, making the score 69-62 with less than three minutes to play. His layup soon after cut the lead to 71-66 as Fordham called timeout with full court pressure and 1:35 remaining. The Rams made one of two free throws on its next possession, followed by another Harper lay-in to cut it to 72-68 with a minute to play. Jalen Cobb made one of two from the line and all hope ended when Omoruyi was called for the charge on the next Rutgers possession. His made basket did not count and Fordham pulled off the upset, winning 78-70.
Rutgers came out flat in the second half and never recovered, as they were outscored 52-39 and outplayed on both ends of the floor. There were not enough contributions from guys not named Baker and Omoruyi for them to win this game. Issa being sick and not being much of a factor certainly hurt.
Omoruyi led the Scarlet Knights with his fifth double-double of the season, posting 19 points on 7 of 14 shooting, 11 rebounds, and 2 assists. Baker finished with 14 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals but was just 5 of 15 shooting and struggled badly in defending Fordham’s Nick Honor, who led all scorers with 29 points on 10 of 17 shooting and 4 of 5 from three-point range.
Mathis scored 8 points in his first career start but took just four shots, while making 4 of 6 from the free throw line. Peter Kiss had a bad shooting night, making just 2 of 9 shots and after grabbing 7 boards in the first half, had none in the second.
Off the bench, Harper Jr. showed flashes, finishing with 10 points and he played well down the stretch. Shaq Carter followed up his breakout performance at Wisconsin with a solid 8 points, 7 rebound effort.
Overall, Rutgers shot just 42.6% from the floor and 4 of 16 from behind the arc. They did have their best free throw shooting performance, making 14 of 20 for 70%. Despite a 42-26 advantage at points in the paint a +5 rebounding margin overall, they didn’t attack the rim enough nor share the basketball the way they are capable of doing. They also lost the rebounding battle in the second half -7.
It was a bad loss for a young team that played its third road game in the past 11 days. Fordham played with more energy and made 10 of 22 from three-point range, including 6 of 12 in the second half. Rutgers also failed to take advantage of their edge in athleticism, as the Rams outscored them 10-4 on fast break points.
Up next, another road game, this time to the Rock to face blood rival Seton Hall next Saturday. The Pirates just knocked off 9th ranked Kentucky at Madison Square Garden earlier in the day and will have serious momentum entering this matchup. Rutgers will need to grow quite a bit in the next week of practice to be ready for what is a major challenge next Saturday. It’s seems the three game, six day stretch that Rutgers just finished took its toll in the loss to Fordham and the coaching staff will look to regroup this team heading into the annual rivalry game.
For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.