When the calendar flips from October to November and your local Home Depot has packed away every last ghoul and goblin and the store is awash with holiday lights and mistletoe, we know basketball season is nearly upon us. As another football season and the angst it has wrought starts to wind down, a weary Scarlet fanbase turns our hopes to all things hoops.
This past Sunday at Jersey Mike’s Arena with Eric LeGrand court-side, RU men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell and former Rutgers coach and current Fairfield head coach Jay Young played a scrimmage game in which all net proceeds went to support Team LeGrand of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
In a game that in no way affects Rutgers’s Net and KenPom rankings (everyone take a deep breath), the Knights were able to shake the rust off in preparing for their upcoming home opener on November 7th against Columbia at a sold-out Jersey Mike’s Arena.
The Starting 5
Paul Mulcahy, Mawot Mag, Aundre Hyatt, Cam Spencer and Clifford Omoruyi were on the floor for tip-off. Notably, Caleb McConnell did not suit up. He tweaked his knee a couple weeks ago in practice according to coach Pikiell. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year will get ample time to rest up during the non-conference slate before the bruising league schedule commences.
Junior center Clifford Omoruyi
Big Cliff led all scorers with 19 points and shot (8-13) from the field. He tallied nine rebounds and two blocked shots. The big man also got to show off his improved outside shooting with a three-pointer at the top of the key and a beautiful step back bank shot. Omoruyi took a massive step forward during last season’s sophomore campaign and if he can be an outside threat shooting the basketball, it will open lots of space underneath the basket for the guards to exploit.
Senior guard Paul Mulcahy
Mulcahy filled up the stat sheet with a team-high ten assists and added seven points and six rebounds. It goes without saying that if Mulcahy can effectively run the point and distribute the basketball like he did during this exhibition, he’ll be an assist machine and this offense will succeed. The 6’7’’ point guard has a huge height advantage against most teams and should have little trouble getting the ball inside to Omoruyi against lesser competition.
Junior Forward Mawot Mag
While I expected strong showings from Mulcahy and Omoruyi, I was most impressed with the improvement of Mag. He looked quick as always but unlike the two prior years, he played under control around the basket and wasn’t careless and hesitant with the ball. Mag finished with 15 points in 30 minutes played and grabbed eight rebounds. Mawot will most likely be in the conversation this year for Rutgers’s most improved player and his tempo and high energy should give opposing teams fits.
Junior Forward Aundre Hyatt
Hyatt started alongside Mag and shot the ball efficiently, going 4-6 and netting 13 points. He looked confident and his stroke was smooth. With the Knights needing to replace the production of Geo and Ron Harper Jr., Hyatt will have increased minutes and a chance to put up points.
Junior Guard Cam Spencer
The Loyola, MD transfer and 2022 Patriot League leading scorer started at shooting guard and scored 10 points. Of note in Spencer’s play is how well he moves in space without the ball, something frequently pointed out by the broadcast team. Spencer plays fast, under control, and looks the part of the sharpshooter the Knights have been missing. Like Mag, Cam is another high motor player who should help the Knights run an up-tempo offense.
Freshman Guard Derek Simpson
The true freshman stole the show at Jersey Mike’s Arena. We’ve seen our share of young players show their nerves early in their Rutgers tenure (Jalen Miller, Mawot Mag and Jaden Jones come to mind in recent seasons) but Simpson looked cool, calm, and collected. He tallied 12 points (5-7) shooting and wore the Number O confidently as his role model, Geo Baker, watched from court side. Knights fans will be elated to hear that Simpson knocked down two three-point shots in the first half and had a fast break dunk in the second half.
First time in the game uniforms for No. 0 pic.twitter.com/ZYMZsQfzH5— Rutgers Men’s Basketball (@RutgersMBB) October 31, 2022
Freshman forwards Antwone Woolfolk, Antonio Chol, Junior Forward Dean Reiber, and sophomore defensive specialist Jalen Miller all logged minutes.
This was Rutgers’s first exhibition game since 2017. Something tells me that after last season’s early debacles that dug a deep hole in the Net rankings that took months to overcome, coach Pikiell wants his team loose and ready for the home opener against Columbia on November 7th in front of what should be a raucous crowd.
The defense looked nowhere near where we can expect it to be early in the season. With McConnell sidelined and Miller playing only a handful of minutes, it was not nearly as imposing as fans are accustomed to by mid-season. However, the offense actually looks fun - like Corey Sanders and Geo running the floor together fun. It has the potential to be much more up-tempo and Spencer and Simpson are legitimate 3-point threats. Watching Spencer move in space, the energy of Mag, the quick explosiveness of Simpson, and the long, fast strides of Omoruyi, this team is built to run the floor. Knights fans can reasonably hope for less rock fights and some exciting transition offense this season.
Derek just keeps getting better and better. He gives us terrific athleticism. He plays with nice pace and poise. It’s really good to see him out there. He’s improving every day.
Head Coach Steve Pikiell (courtesy Rutgers Athletics)
Derek has been awesome and we talk a lot, especially in practice. We talk about stuff on the court and off the court. I think he’s going to be really good. Like Pikes said he’s got a special talent in his explosiveness. I am really excited to have him in the backcourt this year.
Senior Guard Paul Mulcahy (courtesy Rutgers Athletics)