Eugene Omoruyi injury overshadows Rutgers' blowout loss to Illinois
Gut-wrenching would be an understatement.
There were 4 minutes and 9 seconds remaining in the first half when Illinois' Mark Alstork hit a 3-pointer to put the Fighting Illini up 35-17. He was fouled as well. Rutgers was dead in the water — being run out of the gym by the Big Ten's last-place team.
And that was all happening right as sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi went down to the floor writhing in pain.
"Ah! My knee!" he yelled, loud enough to hear through the Big Ten Network broadcast.
Junior guard Corey Sanders went over to Omoruyi to check on his teammate. He immediately turned and ran back to the bench with his arms over his head, clearly in distress after what he had just seen.
Junior guard Souf Mensah, freshman guard Geo Baker and sophomore forward Issa Thiam all walked over to check on Omoruyi as well. Mensah and Baker backed away with arms over their heads as well, as if they had never seen anything like that before. Thiam looked down at his teammate holding his jersey over his mouth. This had clearly hit the Scarlet Knights pretty hard.
WRSU, Rutgers' student radio station, reported from Illinois that trainers had to pop Omoruyi's knee back into place and the entire State Farm Arena took notice.
But there was still basketball to be played — 24 minutes and 9 seconds, to be exact.
With arguably their best defensive player out, the Knights collapsed. It was the ugliest game in the Steve Pikiell era, as Rutgers dropped the contest by a score of 91-60. Even with a 31-point difference, the scoreline does not even begin to grasp the one-sided affair that went down in Champaign.
Going into Tuesday night, Illinois was shooting 43.9 percent from the field, 11th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten. From 3-point range, the Illini sat 12th, with a mark of 31.4 percent.
But against the Knights, they were 56.9 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from deep.
True freshman Trent Frazer had been shooting under 30 percent from 3 on the season, but caught fire in the first half, making 5-of-7 (71.4 percent) to finish with 17 points in just 19 minutes.
On the offensive side of the ball, Rutgers turned it over 25 times. Throw in its 16 giveaways from the previous game against Penn State and the Knights have 41 turnovers in their last two games. Rutgers was once one of the best teams in the country at taking care of the ball, but that is clearly no longer the case.
The injury to Omoruyi clearly sucked all the energy out of the team and the Knights went on to lose by their largest margin ever under Steve Pikiell.
Already without Mike Williams for an indefinite amount of time, losing Omoruyi presumably for the rest of the season means that Rutgers is without its two most important bench players, but more importantly, its two best catalysts.
Williams was always the first guy to come in off the bench and would always find a way to give the team a spark.
He just had the knack to hit a key 3-pointer to get the Knights out of a scoring drought or out-muscle guys with 6-7 inches on him for a key rebound to give Rutgers another possession. He was the type of player whose contributions go way beyond the stat sheet.
The same can be said for Omoruyi, who was praised by just about everyone in the program for making the biggest strides in the offseason.
He has put his body on the line more than anyone else on the team, taking 18 charges on the season, while no other player has more than two. He has made numerous impressive blocks and never backed down, despite almost always being the smaller player in his defensive matchups.
Williams and Omoruyi are the two grittiest players on the Knights roster and with seven games left in the regular season, Pikiell will need to pull out all the stops to simply remain competitive in the Big Ten.
"Unfortunately, not good," Pikiell said about the Omoruyi injury in his postgame radio interview. "We'll find out more tomorrow."