The Rutgers men’s basketball team opened its season with three consecutive double digit victories for the first time since the 1980-1981 season, completing the trifecta with a 70-56 win over Hofstra on Sunday. It was the third game in five days for the Scarlet Knights and some fatigue may have contributed to some sloppy play at times. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but this team demonstrated a maturity that kept them in control of the game the entire way against the defending champs and preseason favorite in the CAA.
It was tied at 10 just five minutes into the game before Rutgers asserted control and went on a 12-1 run that ultimately led to a 32-16 lead with under four minutes remaining in the opening frame. Hofstra held Rutgers scoreless the final 3:52 of the first half and entered the locker room trailing 32-21.
After the break, Jacob Young hit a three on the break after a Hofstra turnover that jump started an 11-2 run to open the second half. It put Rutgers out in front by 22 points with just over 16 minutes remaining. To their credit, Hofstra never quit and continued to fight back but they were unable to cut the lead to single digits. Rutgers prevailed 70-56.
Rutgers only shot 44% from the field and were just 4 of 14 from three-point range (29%) while facing a matchup zone for the first time this season. However, they continued to dominate with points in the paint (34-22) and fast break points (20-7). Defensively, RU held Hofstra to 30% shooting and 6 of 27 from three-point range for only 22%. The Scarlet Knights finished +8 on the boards as well.
”I think we can be a lot better, that is for sure. I do like that number though, 56. They score a lot, they shoot a ton of threes, one of the better three-point shooting programs in the country, so I did like that number. I do think we had three games in five days, I think you saw a little bit of that fatigue, but our numbers were good. It’s the first game that we kept our team under 40 and under 30 (percent) from three, so that is always one of the things we want to do every night. I thought we could rebound a lot better than we did tonight. Defensively we did things we needed to do. We took away some of the things that they do a really good job of making threes, we did a good job of guarding the three-point line.”
Jacob Young, Ron Harper Jr. and Montez Mathis led the offense for a third consecutive game.
Young was assertive from the start and after posting 11 points in the first half, he finished with a team high 17 points on 5 of 14 shooting. However, he was 2 of 4 from three-point range and 5 of 6 from the free throw line. He added 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.
Harper Jr. wasn’t as dominant as he was in the first two games, but he shot an efficient 6 of 11 from the floor and finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists to just 1 turnover and one blocked shot.
Mathis was steady once again, finishing with 14 points on 6 of 12 shooting and 6 rebounds, although he did commit 4 turnovers.
Paul Mulcahy had a quiet night in regard to scoring for a second straight game, but he influenced the game in a big way. He grabbed a career high 9 rebounds and tied a career high with 7 assists. Although he did turn it over 4 times, an unusual occurrence for him, Mulcahy added 2 steals and a block, finishing with a team best +/- of 19
Myles Johnson is the soft spoken big man who continues to carry a big stick, as he finished with 9 rebounds and blocked 5 shots along with 4 points. His counterpart at center, Cliff Omoruyi, had 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.
Rutgers has gotten consistent production from its best players in all three games so far and that speaks to this team’s growth and development. They certainly didn’t play to their potential over the first three games, but they were in total control the entire week and went about their business in an efficient manner.
After the game, head coach Steve Pikiell said, “We had great opportunities at the rim, I thought we missed a lot of open looks. It could be some fatigue, maybe I’m playing these guys too many minutes. We didn’t have the pop that we had the last few days and something for me to learn about my team.” He continued, “I thought we defended the way we’re supposed to, defense always tells us if we’re going to win, offense, 70, 80, 90, whatever we get tells you by how many and offensively today, I didn’t like our energy. I didn’t love our defense either, so it’s a good thing I’ll be crabby for the next few days and it’ll be good for our guys in practice.”
As for what is next, Rutgers isn’t scheduled to play again until December 8 at 9:30 p.m. at the RAC against Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. On whether it’s possible that another game could be scheduled before that important non-conference matchup, Pikiell said, “Probably pretty good if we can figure it out and do it at the right time. Everything is about safety and how much testing. Who is traveling, who isn’t traveling. Our guys have been safe. We’ve done a really good job keeping them that way. All the decisions will be made based on that.”
Rutgers passed the test that was the first week of the season, winning all three games and never being in real danger at all. They are poised to move up the national rankings on Monday.
Pikiell assessed the current state of the team by saying, “Every guy that got into the game really helped us, so that’s a good sign moving forward, obviously stepping it up. We need a couple days off here, which we’re going to get and then we will start preparing for the road ahead.”
In this current state amidst a global pandemic, even just playing three games in five days is an accomplishment. They’ll get some much needed rest and hopefully will be back at the RAC for another game in the next week.