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Embracing Expectations: 4 Thoughts on Rutgers 91-88 Win Over Illinois

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NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Rutgers Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Wow.

After a first half, where Rutgers looked out of sorts and the Illinois Fighting Illini looked like the smoother team, the Scarlet Knights rebounded. Ron Harper Jr and the rest of the Scarlet Knights took it to Illinois, shutting them down almost completely. If not for the typical free throw misses, especially in the first half, this would have been a rout.

Four Thoughts

Ron Fire, Part 6: Let’s face it, Ron Harper Jr could be headed to the NBA after this season. Especially, if he keeps this up. He made two open threes for a quiet first half, but turned it on in the second half again. He finished with 28 points, going five for eight from three and five for six from the line. He is a beast right now, and what head coach Steve Pikiell says is correct—he’s a three level scorer. He can shoot it. He has midrange game and he can get to the hoop. Hard to defend a guy like that. He should be the Big Ten player of the week, in my opinion.

Injuries: Pikiell only played seven players. Before the game, word came down that Mawot Mag had a boot on and was in street clothes. Then, early in the 2nd half, Cliff Omorouyi came up hobbled and needed help off the court. Word from Twitter was he was riding the exercise bike to stay loose, but he never came back in. Playing only seven players is risky for a wear down and if your losing three of your players long term—including Caleb McConnell—that could spell trouble. Hope for health and healing this Christmas.

Most Important Player: If you had asked me before the season, I would have said Geo Baker, the heart and soul, would be the most important player. I would have been wrong. Night in and night out, Myles Johnson is proving himself to be the most important player on the team. He is a defensive and rebounding stalwart, forcing Kofi Cockburn to have to work for everyone of his points. Johnson finished the game with 9 points, 13 rebound, 3 blocks and 3 steals, filling the statsheet. He also managed foul trouble, playing nearly the entire second half.

How Good Is This Team?: They are going to move way up in the rankings again, maybe flip flopping with Illinois to the 13th spot tomorrow. But they aren’t many weaknesses. Jacob Young is having a heck of a senior year so far, coming up just behind Ron with 24 points. Paul Mulcahy is turning in the Bayonne Brawler, not scared of anyone. He’s head game to pull the flagrant foul on Williams was just brilliant. And Montez Mathis is going 100 miles per hour. He kept Rutgers in the game in the first half and finished with 15 points. If he could make free throws, he’d be incredible. Last year this team had to fight and claw for every point. This season, Rutgers can score along with defense. They won 91-88. That is impressive.

Next up? A trip to Ohio State on Wednesday night!