The Scarlet Knights grabbed a huge win over the Pirates to take home the victory in the annual Garden State Hardwood Classic. It was a great all-around effort and an encouraging sign after two big losses against Illinois and Wake Forest. Six Thoughts:
Mag is Back: Mawot Mag was great tonight. He finished with just 4 points, but was strong defensively and on the glass. He grabbed 8 tough rebounds and provided the defensive enforcement Rutgers needed to beat their in-state rival. The importance of his return can’t be overstated, and the timing was impeccable. Without Mag, Rutgers probably loses this game by 3-5 points. He might not be the Scarlet Knights’ most talented player, but he’s probably their most valuable. Feeling like he’s an 8-point, 8-rebound guy in the Big Ten this season.
Cliff Omoruyi Bounces Back: After a lackluster start to the season for Rutgers’ big center, Cliff Omoruyi had the best game of his season against the Pirates. Aided by the return of fellow forward Mawot Mag, Cliff went off for 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 7(!) blocks. This was his third double-double of the season and should be a big confidence builder for him as the Scarlet Knights’ schedule heats up. Mag’s return freed up some of the doubles on Omoruyi down low and should allow Cliff to be more aggressive on the offensive end. Bonus, he was 5-5 from the charity stripe.
Jamichael Davis. Gamechanging: The amount of impact I think JMike’s going to have this season reminds me of a young Geo Baker circa 2016. Davis is as athletic of a guard as Rutgers has had since Jacob Young played in Scarlet. He finished with 11 points, 6 assists, 2 boards, and was an astounding +17 against the Pirates. The freshmen guard may have taken the backseat to Gavin Griffiths in recruiting rankings, but he’s going to be as big of a difference maker for Steve Pikiell. He’s an energizer bunny and adds another dimension to the offense when he’s in. He drew the start tonight, and after that performance, he should factor into the starting lineup going forward.
Don’t Forget About Gavin Griffiths: Speaking of freshmen, fellow first-year and 5-star recruit was a key cog in tonight’s victory as well. He had 11 big points playing 23 minutes off the bench and is the best shooter Steve Pikiell has ever had at his disposal. Along with Davis, he figures to be a part of a stellar freshmen class this season. He’s got to get stronger on the boards, but Griffiths has the offensive talent to be an NBA player. His development is going to be fun to watch.
Scarlet Knights Made Shots: Rutgers players made a number of good shots tonight, and it is a large part of why they were able to come away with the victory on the road. Despite a heavy home whistle favoring Seton Hall, the Scarlet Knights were able to finish 12-24 on threes, showing great promise from the perimeter. They also managed to get to the line, paving the way for the team to shoot 12-16 from the stripe for a 75% clip. The downside? They once again struggled to finish at the rim, making just 5 of their 19 layup attempts. The Scarlet Knights are going to have to be better inside, but taking a more balanced approach and focusing on making the extra pass for an open three should be what happens as the season continues. Steve Pikiell needs to take advantage of Davis, Griffiths, and Noah Fernandes’s prowess from deep and run an offense that plays to their strengths.
Season Back on Track: After back-to-back blowout losses against Illinois and Wake Forest, many feared the worst for this Rutgers team. This felt like as much of a must-win game as an early December game can be, and the Scarlet Knights showed up big time. They needed to bounce back and they did by taking the Hardwood Classic Trophy back to Piscataway for the time being. With another big nonconference test against Mississippi State coming up, the Scarlet Knights are going to have to be at the top of their game because the tough stretch of their season is beginning, and time waits for no man.
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