The dawn of a new era of Rutgers basketball began tonight in Trenton, as when the Scarlet Knights traveled a few exits south down Route 1, they were without many of the players that headlined recent tournament teams. In the 121st meeting between the two teams, Princeton proved to be too much for Rutgers, and the Knights suffered an extremely disappointing loss in their season opener.
A slow start allowed Princeton to jump out to a 12-4 lead, but Oscar Palmquist hit a three to cut the Tigers’ lead to 5, sparking an 8-2 Rutgers run that tied the game at 14. Additionally, Antwone Woolfolk shined in early relief of Cliff, making several nice plays while giving Omoruyi a rest.
The teams traded scores as the first half continued, with 5 lead changes and 5 ties. When the buzzer sounded though, Princeton had a +4 lead on the boards and took a 32-28 lead into the locker room after a 7-0 run to end the half.
The Scarlet Knights looked fast, but out of control at times on both ends. They got to the rim often, but they struggled mightily around the basket, shooting just 6 of 14 on layups. Defensively, they struggled to hold the Tigers to one-shot possessions, allowing far too many second-chance buckets.
Austin Williams and Jamichael Davis replaced star freshman Gavin Griffiths and Derek Simpson at the beginning of the second half, but it didn’t make much of a difference, as Rutgers continued to look sloppy and allowed Princeton to hit several threes and grab numerous offensive boards.
Mid-way through the second half, Woolfolk, arguably Rutgers’ best player tonight, went down hard and did not return. It remains to be seen how severe the injury is, but with Mag still out, he would be a huge loss.
The Scarlet Knights were able to keep it close for most of the game, but they could never take a second-half lead. They cut the Tigers’ advantage to 2 points but were immediately greeted with a corresponding run from Princeton.
The biggest concern tonight was that Princeton consistently out-hustled Pikiell’s squad, beating them to loose balls and outworking Rutgers on the boards. It never felt like the Scarlet Knights had a chance to win this game, they’re more talented, but they were not the better team in the one. Rutgers’ play was characterized by sloppiness, and, frankly, Mitch Henderson outcoached Steve Pikiell. The Scarlet Knights’ inexperience showed, and they didn’t look ready to play in their first action this season.
This shouldn’t turn out to be a terrible loss, as it will likely be a quad 2 neutral site game, but Rutgers cannot make any more mistakes in the nonconference section of their schedule. Their margin for error for making the tournament is slim, and they cannot afford another slip-up.