After week one of the 2021-22 college basketball season, Rutgers has already escaped two upsets. They sit at 2-0 after beating Lehigh 73-70 in overtime and Merrimack 48-35. Rutgers was trailing at halftime in both games, a bit of a concerning statistic for Rutgers fans. However, the Knights managed to come out on top in both games for an undefeated start to the new season.
Game one against Lehigh started with the Mountain Hawks looking like the better team. Rutgers could not shoot well from the field and the Hawks led 36-31 at halftime. Rutgers played better in the second half, but still did not look how a Big Ten team should look against a Patriot League opponent.
The second half ended with Geo Baker missing a shot from inside the arc as time expired. Overtime was probably the best Rutgers played all game. The defense was solid and they managed to get shots to fall.
Ron Harper Jr. finished the game with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Cliff Omoruyi answered the questions Rutgers fans had about the void Myles Johnson left after his departure to UCLA. Omoruyi finished one rebound away from a double-double as he was the Knights leading scorer with 16 points.
Game two against Merrimack was even more concerning for Rutgers fans despite the score, specifically the first half. The halftime score was 23-16 with Merrimack leading. Rutgers could not get shots to fall, partially due to poor shot selection. Paul Mulcahy, for instance, took 3 of the first 4 Rutgers shots, all of which were contested, despite having an open teammate to pass to.
The second half was much better for the Knights as they settled down, played great defense, and learned how to attack Merrimack’s zone defense. Zone defense should not make a Big Ten team struggle so mightily, so Steve Pikiell and company must figure out how to operate next time they face a team that plays zone defense. Rutgers outscored the Warriors in the second half by a score of 32-12.
Ron Harper Jr. and Cliff Omoruyi both posted double-doubles, combining for 24 points and 24 rebounds. Starters Paul Mulcahy and Caleb McConnell finished the game with 0 points each, as did 3 of the 5 players who saw action off the bench. The scoring issues must be figured out soon before the Knights begin to face their tougher opponents.
There were some positive things to take away from these two games. First, the Rutgers faithful came out to support the Knights and were extremely loud in both games. The student section was packed with rowdy fans ready to intimidate opponents for the first time in two seasons. Secondly, both Ron Harper Jr. and Cliff Omoruyi have hit the ground running, combining for 54 points and 43 rebounds thus far.
Going forward, it’ll be important for the rest of the starters to get it going. Geo Baker, Caleb McConnell, and Paul Mulcahy have combined for 36 points thus far. They have also combined for 11 turnovers, and with a talented bench, they must get this number to a minimum if they want to stay in the starting 5.
On Tuesday, the Knights will take on NJIT, who is currently 1-1 with a loss to Merrimack and a win over Lehigh. This game realistically should not be close, but we said the same thing about the Merrimack game. Hopefully this past week was a wakeup call for the Knights and they are able to dominate against NJIT.
The Knights have just one other game this week as they will travel to Chicago to take on the DePaul Blue Demons. DePaul is currently 2-0 having scored 97 and 99 points in their first two games. This will be the Knights’ first test this season, and if they play anything like they did against Lehigh and Merrimack, they will not win. They must figure out their game if they expect to finish this week undefeated.
Tune into Big Ten Network on Tuesday 11/16 at 7 pm to watch the Rutgers Scarlet Knights take on the NJIT Highlanders.