Rutgers stormed back and then hung on to win a crazy opener 73-70 in overtime. Four Thoughts:
Basketball is Back, Baby: First off, how good does that feel? We weren’t watching an empty arena full of cutouts and fake crowd noise. No, it was real college basketball with a fiery student section and a loud crowd. The arena was buzzing from the opening ceremony. There was a sense of reunion at the RAC (Jersey Mike’s Arena) tonight, as we got to see old friends, meet new ones, and cheer on the team that has excited us for three years.
The banner went up: That was the most important part and it was really well done. Rutgers unveiled the banner celebrating their first NCAA appearance in 30 years and first tournament win in 38 years. On the big screen, they played highlights of last season leading into the Selection Sunday show highlight, which got a huge roar from the crowd. And the banner will be there all season for everyone to see. Last season was special and this was a night to celebrate them.
Okay, the Positive Spin: Anyone who watched or was there tonight got a game. A classic RAC barnburner. The Scarlet Knights needed a good sized run at the beginning of the second half to get back in it and then needed a classic Geo fadeaway to tie the game with about 40 seconds left. At times, the big man Cliff Omoruyi looked like a beast and he and Ron Harper Jr led the team for most of the way. Harper threw down an alleyoop dunk in the second half that was just electric. Find the highlight if you didn’t see it. The RAC got loud—louder than anyone expected it would tonight—as the squad got some huge defensive stops late and then ran away with it in overtime. Well, maybe ran away with it was a little bit of hyperbole, but the OT was more Rutgers leaning than the score did indicate. Anyone at the RAC tonight got a fun and stressful show. My FitBit told me I was 171 active heart rate minutes today—168 of them happening during the game. So, it was fun to be there.
You Want Pessimism? Fine: There is a lot to fix. A lot of the new pieces didn’t seem to gel well, and we even got a very strange run of Dean Reiber, Oskar Palmquist, Aundre Hyatt and Caleb McConnell for the stretch in the first half. Rutgers came out—not flat—but definitely over amped. They let Lehigh score 6-7 field goals to start while missing nearly all of theirs. The Scarlet Knights wanted to put on a show early and get the crowd into it for a rout, but they weren’t able to do it and got stuck in a rut. The offense and defense never truly clicked until the end. One for thirteen from three. ONE FOR THIRTEEN. But, you can’t really tell anything from this game—no trends, no storylines, just a close game. Those happen in basketball. If this game is a harbinger, we won’t know for a few more weeks. For now, let’s take it as it was, a fun college hoops game that ultimately put a 1 in the Rutgers win column.