NJIT (1-1) At Rutgers (2-0)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey (8,000)
Tip-off: Tuesday, November 16 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN+ (Subscription only) - Dom Savino and Nick Kosko
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 72, improved 3 spots since 48-35 win over Merrimack; NJIT - No. 273, improved 22 spots since 73-56 win over Lehigh
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 101.7 (133rd) Defense 90.7 (30th); NJIT - Offense 91.8 (317th) Defense 100.6 (197th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 72 NJIT 56. Rutgers is given a 94% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -18.5
Series History: Rutgers leads the all-time series 7-0, including four by single digits, which began in 2007. RU won the last meeting 85-58 on November 26, 2019.
Notes: This game is a sellout, marking the 12th straight dating back to the 2019-2020 season....The Rutgers Athletic Center is officially called Jersey Mike’s Arena per a sponsorship deal announced last week.....If you are attending the game at Jersey Mike’s Arena, click here for new guidelines this season including masking policy and new ticketing procedures.
The Highlanders are led by sixth year head coach Brian Kennedy and have played the same two opponents that Rutgers has so far this season. They lost to Merrimack at home 61-54 and then beat Lehigh on the road 73-56. They made 9 of 15 three-point shots in the victory over the Mountain Hawks after making 6 of 21 from deep in the season opener.
6’5” senior Miles Coleman is averaging 17.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 steal through two games. He has shot the ball 12 more times than second leading scorer 6’4” senior Dylan O’Hearn who is averaging 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 assist. 6’3” junior James Lee is averaging 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.5 steals. 6’0” senior Antwuan Butler is averaging 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals. 6’9” fifth year senior Matt Faw leads the frontcourt with 3.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 block. He is alongside 6’9” senior Souleymane Diakite, who is averaging just 1.0 points but also 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.0 steal. 6’4” sophomore Mekhi Gray made the America East All-Rookie Team last season and is averaging 2.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.0 steals through two games.
The three-point shooters to be aware of are O’Hearn (5-10, 50.0%), Coleman (5-12, 41.7%) and Butler (3-5, 60.0%). Lee and Faw are the top newcomers, transferring from JUCO powerhouse Salt Lake Community College and Holy Cross respectively.
As a team, NJIT is shooting just 38.8% from the floor but 41.7% from behind the arc and 74.4% from the free throw line. They have committed 34 turnovers in two games, but have also forced 36.
On offensive struggles
“They were hesitant after they missed a few shots and I told them at halftime, don’t be hesitant, if you’re open you shoot the ball, if you’re not, you pass the basketball. We were much more aggressive getting the basketball into the paint. We did a much better job obviously rebounding the basketball with different ways to score. Then guys got a little more comfortable. I thought we were on our heels a little bit offensively in the first half, but our defense kind of kept us kept us in in the game. But yeah, you don’t want to get off to slow starts like that, but I do like I do like the grind. We’re learning a lot of lessons we’ve got film. Just got to keep grinding. This has been a good group of guys.”
On bench play
“It was nice to have Mawot Mag back on the bench. I thought Dean Rieber gave us four good minutes too. Andre and new guys to our program, really kind of figuring it out and what I liked most, I love that gave us offensive lift but I think they played really well on the defensive end of the floor. I’m most pleased with their development in those areas.”
On the first two games
“It’s tough, even looking at scores early in the season across the country. A lot of new players, a lot of transfers. You’re always worried early in the season. Wondering if they a new stuff in. You don’t have a lot of film on people. I think both these teams we played are good. Merrimack has a chance to win that league. They’re very gutsy and tough and they defend every night. So, I knew we’d be tested and we had to jump through a lot of obstacles too now. People are back in the stands and a lot of different kinds of distractions. So, I liked the way we practiced in the last couple of days and again, I like this team. When we had to defend today, I was most proud of that. We were able to string it together and made it real tough and that’s a good basketball team.”
Keys To Victory
Rutgers has started very slow in both of its first two games and went into halftime with deficits of 5 and 7 points. This is a bad habit they must break as the schedule ramps up pretty soon. Getting out of the gates with energy and being focused on the game plan is key. They can’t afford to make poor decisions or play out of control in the early going.
NJIT can shoot the three and that makes them a dangerous opponent, particularly if you allow them to build confidence throughout the game. Most of their rotation are veteran players, although many have come from the JUCO level and core of this team is playing together for the first time.
Rutgers needs to identify and close out on the top shooters and rotate well defensively on ball reversals. Limiting the Highlanders to one shot possessions is key as well as not allowing for kickouts to the perimeter off of offensive rebounds, which will lead to open looks.
Taking care of the basketball and sharing the game like they did in the second half against Merrimack is important. NJIT is No. 41 in defensive turnover rate, so avoiding sloppy play is a must. The Scarlet Knights started to develop some rhythm on offense in that half and need to build on it. Working inside out by feeding Cliff Omoruyi and Ron Harper Jr. at the start will help establish control of the game. They did a better job of letting three-point opportunities come to them against Merrimack, but that needs to continue.
Caleb McConnell and Paul Mulcahy have struggled mightily through two games. They need to stop overthinking it, which you can tell they are due to hesitating in their decision making at times. Letting the game come to them by getting into it with moving the ball and focusing on their defense will help.
Geo Baker is as experienced a player as the program has ever had and he needs to lead from the opening tip on. Ensuring Rutgers gets off to a good start with smart play and playing lockdown defense from the opening tip will help set the tone. He also needs to make sure Aundre Hyatt and Jaden Jones get opportunities in the halfcourt, as both players are off to good starts and can make this offense more dynamic.
NJIT is No. 8 in holding opponents to just a 16.9% offensive rebounding rate, but Rutgers can win that battle if there is a hands on deck approach to crashing the offensive glass. For a team that has struggled offensively, RU needs to capitalize on second chance points near the rim and make their layups.
The most important thing is winning this game. Ideally, Rutgers plays its best game so far and has a comfortable enough of a lead that the bench gets some good minutes at the end and the starters can rest with the next game just a little more than 48 hours later on the road in Chicago against DePaul. That being said, just get the win no matter what.
For the third game of the season, I selected “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire. A great band that is even better live, especially with this anthem that always gets the crowd going. The lyrics are actually pretty dark and about the loss of innocence, but I think that is appropriate.
Despite being a veteran team, this group is still trying to figure things out with several changes to the dynamic. The core of this team has been through a lot of adversity throughout their careers and to think they can’t fight through the poor start offensively seems short sighted.
Adjusting to Cliff Omoruyi’s emergence, as well as Aundre Hyatt and Jaden Jones being significant contributors, as well as Paul Mulcahy playing a new role has left the offense disjointed. That being said, it’s a long season and there is nowhere to go but up so far. Rutgers has shot 35% from the floor through two games and tonight is an opportunity to produce a better offensive performance. Finding their rhythm is only a matter of time, but the longer they struggle, the more vulnerable they are to a disappointing loss that shouldn’t happen. It’s time to wake up offensively and share the basketball in a way that leads to an efficient attack from the opening tip on.