The Rutgers men’s basketball season is nearly one week old and despite some less-than-stellar performances, the Scarlet Knights are 2-0. In this week’s film session, we’ll look at the wins against Lehigh and Merrimack. Let’s jump into it.
It’s no secret that Rutgers has struggled offensively against the zone for the past few seasons. Not having an elite outside shooter will do that to you. At times last season, they put Paul Mulcahy in the middle, flashing to the foul line to receive the pass then turning and making a decision. But for the first game, Mulcahy was running the point so Pike needed someone else in the middle. That was Aundre Hyatt.
Watching it back, you’ll see that Mulcahy probably waited a little too long to make the pass but Hyatt’s decisiveness made it work anyway. Hyatt took the pass and immediately faced the basket to put pressure on the defense. When the weak-side defender backed away, he was left with a wide-open 10 footer.
Last season, Rutgers often got caught in-between in situations like this, not knowing whether attack directly or to make an extra pass to a big. In his first chance in this role, Hyatt showed that he has the instincts to make a good read.
This game would require overtime, and the extra session provided the two best possessions that RU had all night. First, Pike runs the Horns action with Caleb McConnell initiating the offense. The first pass goes to Ron Harper Jr., who pivots and uses his body to free up McConnell as he cuts to the basket. The return pass is fairly easy and results in an and-1.
In truth, Lehigh defended this really poorly, but credit Harper and McConnell for taking advantage. McConnell’s defender tries to get over the screen even though Rutgers couldn’t make anything from long range. To compound that mistake, the other Lehigh defenders stand flat-footed and don’t even attempt to offer help. With 2:26 left in overtime, Lehigh had run out of gas.
That was the best offensive play of the night for Rutgers, at least until a few minutes later…
One of the best things about this play is the anticipation from Geo Baker. Note the time and score - Rutgers up 4 with under a minute left. In most cases, the focus would be to drain the clock as much as possible. The on-ball defender is probably thinking the same thing, so he takes a swipe at the ball, assuming that Geo is content to dribble for awhile. But as soon as the defender reaches, Geo blows past him to create an advantage. The lob to Cliff made Jersey Mike’s Arena explode and Rutgers survived an opening-night scare.
Next up was Merrimack. I was thinking about burning this tape entirely, but after forcing myself to re-watch it, there were a few positive sequences from Rutgers in the 2nd half. Let’s skip right to those.
The game was stuck at 27-24 Merrimack with 13:59 left to play when Aundre Hyatt entered. His energy, along with Mawot Mag and Jaden Jones later on, effectively changed the game.
Follow Hyatt on this defensive possession. In a span of about 12 seconds, he closes out on two 3-point shooters, grabs a rebound and draws a foul.
Hyatt’s energy was contagious, as we would see both Mawot Mag and Dean Reiber go to the floor and create a Merrimack turnover just a few minutes later.
Despite the lockdown defense from Rutgers in the 2nd half, they still had just a 4-point lead with 7+ minutes remaining. What followed was the best offensive possession of the night for RU, and again, Hyatt was involved.
The ball barely gets inside the 3-point arc, but Baker, Jones and Hyatt are quick and decisive against the zone. Two ball reversals and Hyatt goes right up in rhythm.
From there, the Scarlet Knights would pull away. But I can’t end this film review without showing the most electric play of the game.
The athleticism of Cliff Omoruyi is insane, but the effort is just as impressive. Rutgers leads by 12 with the ball and under 2 minutes left. This one is over, but you wouldn’t know it by the full-court sprint from Cliff, who played 32 minutes in the game. He leaves from underneath the Merrimack basket, runs the length of the court, calls for the lob, and finishes. 2-0.
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