Rutgers sweeps its opening weekend in blowout fashion
Opening weekend of college basketball is over all across the country and things couldn’t have gone any better for the Rutgers basketball team.
The Scarlet Knights (2-0) finished off a sweep of the weekend with a 95-66 win over Drexel on Sunday, two days after defeating Fairleigh Dickinson, 90-55, in their season opener at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
The two games of 90-plus points marked the first time in program history that Rutgers accomplished that feat to begin the season. It was also the first time the Knights won consecutive games by a margin of 25 or more to begin a season.
“I think it’s our team chemistry, everyone can just see that we enjoy playing with each other,” said sophomore guard Geo Baker. “I think that we like to share the ball, that’s something that I think is new here, we really enjoy sharing it so as long as we keep that up I think we’re gonna keep making shots.”
Rutgers made 33 of its shots, to be exact, going 52 percent from the field and 54 percent from 3-point range. In fact, the Knights drained 14 shots from beyond the arc — the second most in program history.
Two nights before, Rutgers sunk 12 shots from deep, giving it 26 already on the season — a stark difference from Knights teams in the past who had struggled mightily in that area.
“They’re really sharing the game and these guys have multi skills now,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “We have a lot of guys out there that can shoot, pass and dribble. We have some inside guys, we have a couple of ring protectors, but they’ve worked hard.”
Leading the pack on Sunday was junior forward Eugene Omoruyi, who had his second double-double in as many games, finishing with 24 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a steal.
After going 0-16 in his career from 3-point range entering the season, Omoruyi finished the day a perfect 4-4 from 3 to go along with his 2-3 performance on Friday. He’s now made the second most 3-pointers on the team behind junior forward and sharp shooter Issa Thiam.
“Just putting the time in,” Omoruyi said on the difference in his 3-point shooting ability. “During the summer, I worked on it a lot when I went back home with my trainer and just having the confidence. Just me sitting with my family and just them having the confidence in me and telling me to shoot it, don’t be scared, just let it fly.”
After a rough shooting night on Friday, Baker bounced back on Sunday going 9-16 from the field and 2-4 from beyond the arc for a season-high 20 points. He also had a game-high six assists.
Thiam rounded out the top scorers of the evening with his 14 points on 5-7 shooting and 4-6 from 3.
“We got a lot of work to do with this team, but I really like the guys. These two guys really did a good job of being veterans today, needed that veteran leadership,” Pikiell said about Baker and Omoruyi.
But it’s not just the veterans who have stepped up so far this season, as many of the younger players and newcomers have showed out, as well.
Most notably, sophomore guard Peter Kiss — who transferred from Quinnipiac after averaging 13.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game during his freshman year but was unable to play last year due to NCAA rules — started both games over the weekend and averaged 15 points.
Rutgers’ freshman class also impressed over the weekend, with players like forward Ron Harper Jr., guard Montez Mathis and forward Myles Johnson all playing meaningful minutes and making their impact felt on the game.
Still, Pikiell wasn’t thrilled about the Knights’ defense in either game.
“As these guys know, after the game we never really talk about points. Our defense, our defense, we gotta get better on that end of the floor,” he said.
Rutgers will also need to clean up its turnovers, giving the ball away a combined 31 times on the weekend, as well as its free throws, going 23-43 (53 percent) from the charity stripe.
Nevertheless, the weekend was a great start to a season that fans are very excited about, as the student section in Friday night’s game was filled to capacity and brought the noise.
The Knights will continue the early part of their season with another home game on Friday against St. John’s in what will surely be an exciting game.
“They’ll be ready to play, and we got some time to prepare,” Pikiell said. “I’m excited, they’ll be excited, hopefully the RAC is packed, our students come out and make it a great environment, because I know these guys play better when we have those kinds of environments.”
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.