Rutgers must pick up pieces, rebound quickly for No. 3 Purdue on Saturday
Mike Williams and Eugene Omoruyi are two players that are commonly referred to as "glue guys". Their impact goes way beyone the stat sheet. Williams was alway the first guy off the bench and always gave the team energy and would impact the game in a positive way.
When Williams went down with a serious ankle injury on Jan. 14, Omoruyi took the role of sixth man for the Rutgers men's basketball team and became tasked with giving the team a spark of the bench.
But with Omoruyi suffering a serious left knee injury in an embarassing 91-60 Illinois on Tuesday night, the Scarlet Knights (12-12, 2-9) are left picking up the piece on what was once a season with an optimistic outlook.
The 31-point blowout was tied for the largest margin of the defeat for Rutgers under head coach Steve Pikiell and with Omoruyi's injury, it was certainly a night to forget for the team.
“I think that we probably lost our composure a little bit from (Omoruyi's injury)," true freshman guard Geo Baker said. "We gotta forget the last game, obviously it was kind of embarrassing for us but we gotta forget it and bounce back.”
Head coach Steve Pikiell spoke to the Media on Thursday afternoon and was as positive as he's ever been, not ruling out an opportunity for either Omoruyi or Williams to return at the end of the season and looking at the injuries as opportunities for other players to make an impact.
"(We) gotta play through it," Pikiell said. "Once adversity hits you, there’s great opportunity too that comes from adversity. I’m hoping that some guys step up."
Pikiell listed walk ons Luke Nathan and Aaren Smith as two player that could be thrust into action when No. 3 Purdue visits the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Saturday.
Nathan is a 6 foot 10 true freshman out of Randolph, NJ who has seen time in blowouts this season, but has yet to play any significant minutes. But with the Boilermakers rotating 7 foot 2 Isaac Haas and 7 foot 3 Matt Haarms in the frontcourt, the Knights will need all the size they can get.
"Everyone’s on the table right now," Pikiell said. "Obviously they’re so big and they get big guys in foul trouble. So we gotta go another guy deep and we’re losing Eugene who’s an up front kind of guy...Those guys gotta be ready to play. I don’t know what foul trouble’s gonna bring, (Haas) seems to foul out every big guy in the league. You gotta go a couple more deep into your bench. Luke’s name came up and he works hard and he practices that way and he’s gotta be ready."
But handling Purdue's big men is just one of many things that Pikiell will have to prepare his overmatched side for.
When their offense isn't running completely through Haas and Haarms, the Boilermakers also happen to be the best 3-point shooting team in the entire country, knocking it down 43.2 percent of the time from deep.
And with both of its losses coming at an early-season tournament in the Bahamas, Purdue has not lost a game in the coutnry this season and have won 12 straight. Of their 22 wins, 12 of them have come by 20 points or more.
When asked simply about their 3-point shooting, Pikiell went on to talk about all of the problems that the Boilermakers cause, noting that they are complete in every sense of the word. Purdue is deep and can beat teams any way it wants, whether it be with two 7-footers, clinical shooting from range or hard-nosed defense.
If Rutgers wants any chance of upsetting one of the best teams in the country, it will need to feed off the energy of the RAC. Williams and Omoruyi were two players that were so good at getting the crowd into the game with their high-energy play, and without either of them on the floor, the Knights will need to find that energy somewhere else.
Junior guard Corey Sanders, who has always seemed to be a catalyst in upsets, said that the team just needs to harness the energy from those two and everyone needs to give more in the final seven games of the season.
“We just gonna try to be like those guys. Be like Mike, be like Eugene. Play with that passion… just wanting to leave everything out there on the floor," Sanders said. "I think we’re just gonna buy in a little bit more. Everybody’s gotta give a little bit more especially now that Eugene's hurt and just try to step up in each way that we can, individually and as a group."