Rutgers was down by double digits in both halves against Nebraska, but a fiery finish and strong overtime performance pushed them over the Huskers in an instant classic. Thoughts:
Cliff Got Back to Being Cliff: The Scarlet Knights’ star center was dominant in a way we hadn’t seen this season against Nebraska. Omoruyi recorded 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocks, en route to turning in a vintage performance for Rutgers. He fought hard and grabbed several key offensive boards late in regulation, something the Knights have lacked to do well this season. He had more than one huge putback in the final few minutes, and frankly, Rutgers would not have won without them. This was the type of game fans expected to see much more often from the 6’11 superstar, so hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
Team Rebounding: Not only was Cliff a huge factor on the boards, but the rest of the Scarlet Knights were strong on the glass, and their +14 rebounding margin was vital to the victory over Nebraska. The rebounding at the guard position was excellent as Derek Simpson had 8(!) rebounds, and Austin Williams grabbed 6. When Rutgers found success in the past, their guards crashed the boards hard. That’s something we’re beginning to see again and should be an encouraging sign going forward. It didn’t hurt the Knights that they grabbed more than two dozen offensive rebounds either.
Depth Issues? Rutgers won the game on the backs of their starters, plain and simple. The Scarlet Knights received just 15 points from their reserves who shot just 4 of 14 from the field. It was good to see freshman Gavin Griffiths find his game a little bit, hitting both of his shots from deep, but Rutgers has had no consistency from their bench overall this season. Eventually, someone is going to need to step up and be a true 6th (or 7th) man for the Knights. Fernandes played that role against the Huskers, but he’s shown to struggle to score in games this season as well. We’ve seen the problems that arise when playing your starters 35+ minutes a night, but it’s hard to take Mawot Mag, Williams, and Simpson off the floor when you don’t have several viable options to replace them.
Derek Simpson: Say what you want about Simpson’s shooting efficiency (he was just 3 of 13 from the field), but he was as important as anyone in Rutgers’ game against Nebraska. He had 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on Wednesday, and made several timely plays for Steve Pikiell and co. He also made 6 of his 7 attempts from the free throw line while the rest of the team shot a horrendous 10 of 23 at the Charity stripe. He’s struggled at times this season, but he’s still only a sophomore, and it looks like he’s finding a groove handling the basketball and facilitating the Knights’ offense.
Steve Pikiell Fired (and Td) up: For just the second time in his 240 games at Rutgers, Steve Pikiell was given a technical foul, and as Brian Fonseca pointed out, his squad won both of those games in overtime. The referees made several questionable calls throughout the contest, and evidently, Pikiell and the rest of the team had had enough of it leading to the stripes dishing out a tech. It turned out that that was the spark the Knights needed to push them over the Huskers.
Shot For Shot: Coming into this game, there were serious doubts about the Scarlet Knights’ ability to slow down the Huskers' offense on the perimeter, and usually when games finish in the 80s, it’s not good for Rutgers. However, the Scarlet Knights kept Nebraska to a manageable 37% clip on 35 shots and made 11 of their own 29 shots to match the high-octane Nebraska offense. Even so, Rutgers didn’t go completely away from their identity, scoring 34 points in the paint and playing stiff defense, giving them the edge they needed.
This was a big win for the Scarlet Knights, but if they want to get back into the tournament conversation, they have to win one of their next two contests. Big (and hopefully better) days are ahead for Rutgers.