It’s nearly impossible to overstate Mawot Mag’s importance to this Rutgers team. The Scarlet Knights finished last season’s campaign 2-6 after Mag’s injury, and it’s been clear from the start of this year that the Knights needed Mag back. They’re 0-4 in conference games at JMA since Mag went down, and with him back, the team received a much-needed boost to their defense and rebounding ability.
After getting decimated by Illinois in their 4th straight home conference loss, Rutgers fans hoped to get the forward back ahead of an all-important contest against Wake Forest. After that didn’t happen, and the Demon Deacons ran Rutgers off the floor in Winston-Salem, fans and coaches were thrilled when the Scarlet Knights announced Mag’s return late this week.
In his first game back, Mag scored 4 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and provided defense that Rutgers sorely needed. His contributions stretched far past his stat line though, as his return opened the floor up for some of his teammates to get their games going as well.
With Mag back on the court, some of the pressure was taken off of Cliff Omoruyi specifically on offense. This allowed Cliff to go off for 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 blocks, easily the best he’s looked all season. His bounce-back was sparked by Mag’s return, and having the two on the court together gives the Scarlet Knights one of the more formidable front-court duos in the conference.
Mag’s defensive presence allowed Rutgers to lock down the Pirates offense, holding Shaneen Holloway’s squad to 63 points on 22 of 61 shooting and 3 of 20 from deep. Additionally, The Pirates only scored 47 of their points off of field goals and committed 11 turnovers. Seton Hall averages over 75 points a game but was dominated tonight by a Rutgers defense largely sparked by Mag’s return. If not for the severe foul differential, the Scarlet Knights could have held the Pirates to under 60 points last night.
So, with how improved Rutgers was with Mag back in the lineup, is this the turning point for Steve Pikiell and co? Can they finally turn the page and find some success in league play?
I believe it is because we’ve seen the discrepancies with Rutgers with and without Mag over the past two seasons, and the Scarlet Knights are a far more dangerous team with him on the court. He’s the ultimate glue guy and is the veteran leader that this team has been missing to start the year.
Along with Aundre Hyatt, he’ll be counted on to be a role model for the younger players and lead by example by being a difference-maker on the court. Not only was Cliff Omoruyi better, but the guards were better in Mag’s return, and the ball just moved more freely on offense.
On top of that, Mag provides Steve Pikiell with a ton of versatility and the power to play several different lineups because of his ability to defend all 5 positions. If he can fill Caleb McConnell’s shoes as the number 1 “stopper” defensively, that would be a massive win for the Scarlet Knights.
Overall, Mag’s return is huge for Rutgers and couldn't have come at a better time. With the season slipping away, Mawot Mag got Rutgers’ season back on track and is going to be the most important player as Big Ten play begins in January.
As always, follow me on X @JSchocket for all my articles and the most up-to-date Rutgers news.