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Cliff Omoruyi gives early hope for frontcourt after season-opening victory

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The Scarlet Knights’ center had a big night to open the season.

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

It has been close to two years since Rutgers’ fans serenaded Roselle Catholic senior Cliff Omoruyi with chants of “We want Cliff!” during a game against Indiana.

Well, fans got their wish and now as a sophomore with the Scarlet Knights, Omoruyi has to take the next step down low.

The 2021-2022 campaign began with an overtime victory against Lehigh, who is supposed to be a bottom-feeding team in the Patriot division. While there is plenty to negative to dissect, Omoruyi was a bright spot from the opening minutes.

“We’re in good hands at the five spot,” Steve Pikiell said of his big man following Wednesday night’s opener. “I love this guy. He’s as good of worker as we’ve ever had in the program. He’s getting better and better every day. One point away from a double-double. Really, really excited about, you know, his development and how he’s a great teammate.”

Coming into the season, Omoruyi has been viewed as one of the most important players for Rutgers given the fact that depth in the frontcourt might be a bit thin. Myles Johnson is now with UCLA and Omoruyi was catapulted into the starting lineup. On Wednesday, Omoruyi got off to a fast start.

Rutgers got its first five points of the season from its big man. Omoruyi threw down a dunk and converted a three-point play after a putback layup to get the season started. It is only right that he ended the game with a bang as well. In overtime, Omoruyi caught a lob from Geo Baker to put the game away with less than a minute remaining.

This brought perhaps the biggest roar from the crowd at Jersey Mike’s Arena.

“It was really good,” Omoruyi said of the Rutgers crowd. “They gave me energy. Last year, there was no energy, it was just us. You could see it in the overtime, when they were tired, we kept going.”

The question coming into the season was not about the athletic ability or overall basketball ability of Omoruyi. It was if he could take over at the five spot and contribute on a consistent basis. During his freshman year, Omoruyi looked a bit raw at times and needed to improve in certain areas.

Against Lehigh, Omoruyi played more with his back to the basket. He was given the ball in a position to go to work down low. There is still some work to be done with converting some shots close to the basket but that will develop over the course of the season. One thing we do know is that Omoruyi has the motor and the athleticism to have a breakout season.

“Throwing down dunks with his whole elbow above the rim, blocking shots, running chin to the rim,” Ron Harper Jr. said. “He’s never going to get credit for running chin to the rim, but he’ll do it because he cares about the team at the end of the day. Big fella works harder than anyone I know. He’s going to have a great season.”

Omoruyi led the Scarlet nights with 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting in the season-opener. He was one rebound away from a double-double as well.

As competition intensifies, there will be a better sense of how Omoruyi is going to turn out this season. After game one, expectations should be high for the big man.