Loss to Florida State proves Rutgers is on verge success
While a loss to Florida State was not what the Rutgers men's basketball was hoping for, the team came and showed that it is just a few pieces away from being a very good team.
If you take away one stretch where fifth-year senior forward and captain Deshawn Freeman got injured and the Seminoles took a lead they would not relinquish, the Scarlet Knights (6-1) played right up to the level with a group that head coach Steve Pikiell was confident in calling an National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament team.
Rutgers visibly struggled with increased level in competition, as the team played without a doubt its sloppiest game of the season on offense, committing numerous uncharacteristic turnovers.
True freshman guard Geo Baker entered the game as the Knights' leading scorer, but had just five points on 2-of-8 shooting and fouled out of the game late in the second half, with his foul trouble all night limiting him to just 22 minutes.
There were so many things that didn't go Rutgers' way on Tuesday night, but the fact that the Knights did not let that deter them and played hard basketball is the sign of a good team and a team that is improving and can play with the best teams in the country.
"I thought we fought. I thought we played hard," Pikiell said after the game. "I’ll coach that team any day of the week. (They) left it on the floor."
Going up against one of the better defensive teams in the country and being a very strong defensive team itself, Rutgers may have anticipated more of a low-scoring battle as opposed to the relatively speaking high-scoring affair it was.
The Knights were not as sound defensively as they had been in their first six games, but were surprisingly able to keep pace with a Seminole team that saw players like CJ Walker and Phil Cofer unexpectedly catch fire from three-point range and shoot 75 percent from deep to combine for 43 points, making up for the disappearance of leading scorer Terrance Mann, who had just 6 of his own.
Rutgers has always been a strong defensive team that would rely on holding teams to low point totals to stay in games. Last season, the Knights' highest point total against a Power 5 team was the 70 points they had in a win over Penn State. They already topped that with 73 against Florida State and have proven that they are good enough on offense to stay in a game if the defense doesn't perform up to par.
Players like sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi are a big reason for that, as the second-year Canadian had a career-high 22 points on Tuesday, showing a much better ability to drive to the basket and attack the Seminoles' zone defense. He adds another element as now Omoruyi and senior guard Mike Williams give the team two scoring threats off the bench, something Pikiell did not have last year. In fact, Omoruyi's 22 points were more than Florida State's entire bench, which had 17.
Going into Sunday's matchup on the road against No. 12 Minnesota, one of the top teams in the Big Ten, Rutgers has a new proven weapon coming off the bench and more offensive confidence, something that will go a long way to the team's success this season.