Rutgers has been playing with fire all season long but has been able to escape without any major burns.
This was not the case on Monday night as the Scarlet Knights hosted the 315th-ranked team in the nation on KenPom.
Rutgers and Lafayette went back-and-forth all night with 17 lead changes throughout the game, including two in the final 30 seconds. Trailing 50-48 with under a minute remaining in the contest, Ron Harper Jr. came away with a steal and hit a three on the offensive end to give Rutgers a one-point lead.
Kyle Jenkins struggled all night for Lafayette finishing 2-for-7 from the field and just 1-for-4 from deep but he made it count. Jenkins nailed a game-winning three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to give the Leopards a massive upset over the Scarlet Knights at Jersey Mike’s Arena.
While hands might have been over the panic button early in the season, it is officially time to start pressing it.
Steve Pikiell made a lineup change heading into Monday with Aundre Hyatt replacing Caleb McConnell, who finished 0-for-5 from the field. Geo Baker exited the game with about eight minutes to play with an apparent hamstring injury and did not return.
For the first time this season, Rutgers went into the break with a lead — and it was by just a single point. A Leo O’Boyle three-pointer with two seconds left cut the lead to one before CJ Fulton came away with a steal but missed the floater at the buzzer.
There were 10 lead changes in the first 20 minutes but the Scarlet Knights gained control using a 12-2 run over a four-minute span. Rutgers was strong defensively forcing 13 Lafayette turnovers, led by Cliff Omoruyi who had two of the Scarlet Knights’ four blocks in the first half.
Rutgers scored 13 points off turnovers in the first half and this made up for another sluggish start from beyond the arc. It was just 2-for-11 from three-point range to begin the game.
Lafayette gained control in the second half and led by as many as seven. It was a battle all night long between Omoruyi and Neal Quinn down low and the Leopard big man got comfortable during a 14-6 run.
Neal finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, and five assists for Lafayette. O’Boyle was the game’s leading scorer with 18 points.
For Rutgers, it was Omoruyi who led the way with 14 points and nine rebounds. Harper Jr. scored 13 points of his own but contributed to the poor shooting from the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers finished 4-for-26 from beyond the arc. That equates to 15.3%.
The early-season struggles have been brushed under the rug a bit and it was assumed that it would turn around. The Scarlet Knights are now five games into the season and they seem to be going backward. A loss to Lafayette is enough to cause some panic heading into a meatier part of the schedule.
The upcoming schedule includes Clemson, Illinois, Purdue, and Seton Hall. This was a Rutgers’ team that was expecting to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. After a loss to the Leopards, that should not be a thought until the offense figures out a way to turn it around.
Rutgers will be back in action on Saturday as it travels to take on UMass. Tip-off is set for 2 P.M. ET.