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Without Eugene Omoruyi, Rutgers Reaches To End Of Bench In Final Stretch

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The Scarlet Knights likely close their season without their two toughest players

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

PISCATAWAY — The Rutgers men’s basketball team is no stranger to bouncing back from a bad loss, but this week is uncharted territory.

Along with suffering an embarrassing 91-60 loss to Illinois in Champaign on Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights also lost forward Eugune Omoruyi to a knee injury midway through the first half.

Freshman guard Geo Baker was near the play when it happened. He witnessed first-hand the pain his teammate went through.

“I saw a lot of fear in his eyes,” Baker said. “He actually looked at me right when it happened and I just heard him scream. I didn’t understand what was going on at first and I looked right at his leg and it looked really bad but we’re hoping it’s not as bad as it looked. Hopefully he gets back soon and we’re really going to miss him for the time being.”

No diagnosis has been released by Pikiell or the team. The closest we’ve gotten as far as knowing what happened comes from Lance Glinn of WRSU, who was at the State Farm Center and shared this tidbit of information with us on Twitter.

Omoruyi’s injury is another massive blow for Rutgers, which saw his fellow glue guy Mike Williams go down with an ankle injury in practice earlier in January. The two losses leave a massive void in toughness and leadership among the team.

But the show must go on. With eight games guaranteed over the next month, new faces need to step up to salvage what is left of the Scarlet Knight season.

“We won’t see him for a while so we’re going to continue to evaluate, but he has a bad injury,” Pikiell said of Omoruyi. “Just more adversity. You can’t control the injuries. (Eugene) and Mike (Williams) and Candido (Sa) but it’s just a part of the building process and the obstacles that come up during the course of a season. Obviously feel awful for him too because he was playing well and he’s a big part of what we’re doing but someone else will have to step up now. More opportunities for other guys and they got to be ready.”

Among the names Pikiell mentioned were walk-ons Aaren Smith and Luke Nathan. The pair has a combined 4 points in 26 minutes played this season, all of which came during garbage time.

With their numbers called during crucial minutes, Pikiell hopes they can step up to the challenge.

“We talked a lot about Luke Nathan, we talked about Aaren Smith, we talked about a lot of things,” Pikiell said. “Guys got to be ready to step up. Mike’s an 1,000 point scorer, Gene is an energy, toughness, multi-position guy so other guys have to be ready. I always say from adversity comes great opportunity and hopefully they look at it that way and they have good practices and get after it a little bit and the guys who are playing have to step it up, too. Got to take on more responsibility.”

Along with Nathan and Smith, players getting regular minutes off the bench like Matt Bullock and Candido Sa will be relied upon to step up. Sa picked up an injury against the Illini as well when he got his eye scratched as a defender stripped the ball from him.

Sa is expected to feature in the Scarlet Knights next outing against No. 3 Purdue — the hardest test possible immediately following a deflating injury. Sa’s improvement throughout his senior season, however, leaves signs for optimism that he can step up and fill Omoruyi’s gap.

“I’m pretty sure he’s going to be fine but he was as the doctors today, haven’t got a report. I’m hopeful he’ll be good to go,” Pikiell said. “He’s been playing really well. That’s why the other night when he got the scratched eye, it really kind of set him back a little bit because you can always count on him. He’s a good defender too. He can defend multiple positions. He’s a five, four, I can even have him guard some threes. Another versatile guy not available to us the other day so he’s been very mature, he’s been great in practice, he’s really been taking on some added responsibility since mike’s been out so he’s an important guy and especially because Purdue is so big, we need all the big bodies that we can. Candido hopefully play well for us and stay injury.”

After Rutgers played the hardest schedule in the conference through 11 Big Ten games, the schedule eases up a bit after facing the Boilermakers. The Scarlet Knights will finish out the season with Omoruyi on their minds, hoping he’ll be able to recover in time to join them at some point along the journey.

“He’s my roommate so we talk every night,” Corey Sanders said of Omoruyi. “I asked him how he felt last night, he said he’s going to work to get better. We’re all keeping him in our prayers so we’re hoping to get him back soon. He’s really one of those guys that’s starting to step up for him. I just told him to keep his head up and we’ve got his back.”