As the game clock struck zero and the student section emptied onto the court to celebrate Rutgers’ stunning upset of #16 Ohio State, there was one player that you’d rarely expect to see celebrating from the bench. Team captain Eugene Omoruyi went down earlier in the evening with what appeared to be a serious injury. His toughness was on full display as he was not only able to get to his feet but also walk off the court without any assistance. He would later rejoin his teammates on the bench but stayed seated for most of the game. Omoruyi dislocated his left knee cap, which is the same injury he suffered last season. Per Jerry Carino, Rutgers will know more later on Friday as to his timetable for return.
Rutgers will know more about Omoruyi's kneecap tomorrow. Pending no surprises in the MRI, standard recovery timetable would be about a month, but Gene made it back in 2 weeks last year. That's probably the best case again.— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven) January 10, 2019
The challenge going forward will be how the team responds once the adrenaline has worn off. With a vacancy now in the starting lineup, Coach Pikiell has several options going forward in which to consider. Fans can make the case for who they think should be inserted into the starting lineup, but the truth is it will take more than one player to fill the void. The turnaround is quick with Rutgers set to visit Minnesota on Saturday at 12:30 ET. We look at some story lines impacting the team and how they can rebound following the Omoruyi injury.
Big Men Coming Up Big
Rutgers will look to makeup the 7 rebounds per game Omoruyi averaged, five times reaching double digits including a 17 rebound performance against Boston University. The good news is the big men are coming off what could be considered their best performance as a group of the season. The only true center on the roster, Shaq Doorson, looked tremendous and has been a great leader for the younger guys. Defensively, he gave OSU star Kaleb Wesson all he could handle down low. Shaq Carter, a guy who played a total of 14 minutes through the first four games of the season, played 31 minutes Wednesday night and accounted for 11 points and 7 boards off the bench. Even freshman Myles Johnson has showed great hands and ability to finish around the rim. Ron Harper Jr. considered a guard/forward gives them versatility both in the front and back court and should continue to get some games in the starting lineup after making his debut against Ohio State. The front court will have their hands full on Saturday with Jordan Murphy, but Rutgers’ ability to give him multiple looks could prove problematic for Minnesota.
With the team’s leading scorer now out of the lineup for an extended period, it’s imperative to try and get more guys involved in the scoring. Although Geo is probably the best scoring threat at this point, he can’t do it by himself. As Coach Pikiell has commented, if a guy has an open look you want him to take the shot. But there’s times where they get stuck in a shooting slump but instead of attacking the basket or working the ball down low for possibly an easy bucket, they will put up a difficult outside shot. The big men actually move well for their size, especially rolling off screens towards the basket, and even their passing has been impressive this year. That is something Rutgers has struggled with in the past. I wouldn’t shift the entire identity of the offense but I would look to get more guys involved.
Down, But Not Out
Issa Thiam has struggled this season and thus seen his minutes diminish. He was dealing with an illness earlier in the season but I have no knowledge of whether or not he’s still having any kind of issue. I do know he still remains one of the better shooters on the team (yes, despite his statistics) and is important on the defense end. This was evident when Coach Pikiell inserted Thiam in the final play of the game against OSU to try and use his length on defense. As for the shooting struggles, I really think it’s a confidence thing. Coach has mentioned this team is a better shooting team than we’ve seen so far and I think that applies to Thiam too. Whether he comes off the bench or starts a game, if he could just hit two quick three’s or knock down a few shots to start a half, I think that could be the catalyst to get him back on track. Either way, the basketball season is a long one folks, don’t give up.
Eugene brought a defensive intensity that included a relentless motor around the boards and an uncanny ability to draw a charge. He’ll be missed on the defensive side but Rutgers’ length can still give teams fits. I was skeptical at the beginning of the season as to whether such a young team could play a cohesive zone defense but they’ve moved well as a unit and their length leaves very little holes for the offense to exploit. Both Thiam and Harper on the wings can clog passing lanes with their length, and don’t forget Caleb McConnell is a tough match up for opposing guards with his 6’6’’ frame. Rutgers showed some flexibility as well versus OSU, switching between a 2-3 zone and man to man defense, even throwing in some three quarter zone press (although, not much of a press, likely done to shorten the shot clock). Down low the combination of Doorson 7’0’’, Johnson 6’10’’ and Carter 6’9’’ make it difficult for opposing teams to be effective on the offensive boards.
A Rising Star
It’s difficult to predict how true freshman will turn out their first year (unless you’re Duke of course). Through his first few games Montez Mathis’ athleticism was undeniable. But you could still see he was tentative, almost playing to not make a mistake. Wednesday night that all changed. He played with a confidence that we’ve had seen flashes of but not to its full effect. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fine line between being aggressive and reckless, but for a team that needs play makers, Montez can fit that role. Besides being a scoring threat, he is active on defense, has good hands and rebounds surprisingly well for a guard his size. He’s still young though, much like Geo his freshman year, he is most likely going to struggle at some point. But overall I think he has the type of talent that could take Rutgers to the next level in future years.