The Scarlet Knights came to play, the RAC came to rock and the Fighting Illini of Illinois were run out of the building.
This is Steve Pikiell’s Best Team: Development takes time, and it certainly took a while for this team to get rolling. But that is nature of college basketball. Steve Pikiell and the team have figured out what they need to do each and every night. They are playing like world beaters, running of a four game stretch that will go down as one of the best stretches in Rutgers history. Four top 25 teams, including one of the road, and only one game went final within 5 points. What a performance. This squad has it going right now and tonight was dominant. The timing of the double teams on Kofi Cockburn were amazing to watch and even though he got his, no one else was able to go off. Rutgers held the powerful Illinois offense to under 38% shooting. The Illini only threatened once, late in the game and by threatened, I mean got it from a 21 point deficit to 11. Rutgers outrebounded Illinois 46-28. This was a Steve Pikiell will. A dominant performance coming off a dominant stretch. They are on the bubble solidly now, and many brackets are going to consider them in. The work isn’t done, but it got a little easier.
Paul Mulcahy is the team leader: Development takes time. You could always see flashes from Paul. Moments where you thought he could change the complexion of the game. He didn’t quite fit right during the last two seasons, with ball dominant Jacob Young on the floor forcing Mulcahy to the wing. But Mulcahy did what he could. This season? The development has reached its zenith. Paul was impressive again tonight, scoring 13 points and assisting on 7 baskets. And, for a lot of the game, he played off the ball on the inbound. Caleb McConnell, who turned in another brilliant performance as well, brought the ball up most of the night. Mulcahy is a player who makes things happen, and now that the light bulb has gone off, he’s turned into a superstar.
The RAC was a Snake Pit tonight: The crescendo takes time. But this wasn’t Jersey Mike’s Arena tonight, this was the RAC—a torture chamber. This was the building at its loudest, building and building to a top fever pitch in the second half when the Scarlet Knights pushed the lead to twenty. Cliff Omoruyi had 15 and 13 and the crowd applauded every stat. Ron Harper Jr scored 16 and the building inhaled on every three, only to explode when they went down. Geo Baker played smart with the ball and the crowd loved his five assists. They were there when Steve Pikiell waved his arms. They were on top of the floor, oppressive for every referee whistle. They were never quiet tonight, but the sound just build and built and built. My ears are still ringing.
How Is Ron Harper Jr? Healing takes time, but lets hope its a short period of time. I haven’t yet looked at the quotes or read about the game yet. I wanted to pour my thoughts out on to paper. But the way Ron Harper Jr walked off the court clutching his and hand, unable to return to the huddle, it sent a chill through me. He can probably afford to miss a game—an ornery Purdue team at Mackey Arena is going to be a tall task—but the Scarlet Knights need him down the stretch. Hopefully he can recover quickly and continue to pour in the points.
What a night.