Kiss, Harper highlight Rutgers' win in season opener
For the third straight season, the Rutgers men’s basketball team opened up the season with a big victory, this time over in-state foe Fairleigh Dickinson at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
The Scarlet Knights (1-0) starting slowly out of the gate, but regrouped as the first half ended to take back a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game. After heading into halftime with a 10-point lead, Rutgers led by as many as 40 and ultimately pulled out a 90-55 win over the visiting Knights.
Six Scarlet Knights made it to double figures in scoring Friday night, as almost everyone got involved in this one. At one point in the second half, Rutgers went on a 22-0 run.
Here are four takeaways from the Scarlet Knights’ first win of the season over Fairleigh Dickinson:
Kisses and swishes
Friday night marked the debut for a number of new Rutgers members, but sophomore guard Peter Kiss shined brightest under the biggest spotlight of his career. After transferring from Quinnipiac and missing all of last season due to NCAA rules, Kiss finally got to step on the RAC court during game time, and he did not disappoint. Kiss’ 3-4 shooting from beyond the 3-point catapulted a barrage by the Scarlet Knights (60 percent from 3) that hasn’t been seen since a game against UMass-Lowell on Dec. 28, 2015. Kiss finished as the game’s leading scorer with 17, while also added four assists, two rebounds and zero turnovers. Kiss’ impressive shooting in general (7-9 from the field) will be key for Rutgers this season.
Talking about debuts, freshman guard Ron Harper Jr. was a catalyst for the Scarlet Knights off the bench. He used every 1 of his 17 limited minutes well, going 7-8 from the field for 15 points, grabbing five boards, dishing out two assists and two big blocks. He hyped up the crowd on numerous plays, none more notorious than an alley oop dunk in the second half that resulted in a technical foul for the Don Bosco Prep graduate after he smacked the backboard after the dunk. His efficiency is part of what helped Rutgers shoot nearly 54 percent from the field in this game. Expect to see his number called by head coach Steve Pikiell often if he continues this production.
Although there are a few recognizable names no longer on the Scarlet Knights’ bench this season, there are a couple of key guys from last year’s roster that showed up tonight.
Sophomore guard Geo Baker, who has been tapped as a frontrunner to be the team’s newest leader, got off to a slow start Friday, missing his first few shots and turning the ball over a couple of times. But Baker got into the groove of things eventually, hitting consecutive 3-pointers to give Rutgers a lead late in the first half that it wouldn’t lose hold of. Baker finished the game with 10 points, seven assists, two blocks, a rebound and a steal, but did struggle overall from the field, shooting 3-9 on the night.
Junior forward Eugene Omoruyi was big for the Scarlet Knights early, supplying the team with a lot of its points in the first half. He finished the game with a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds).
Fellow junior forward Issa Thiam played nearly the entire first half, and did some damage in it as well. The Dakar, Senegal native had an efficient 3-6 night shooting (3-4 from 3) for 11 points.
Graduate student center Shaquille Doorson had a nice game in his final season opener with Rutgers, contributing 4 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 17 minutes of play.
Still some work to do
Despite their 35-point win, the Scarlet Knights were not perfect in this one by any measure. The visiting Knights were keeping with the home team for a majority of the first half — leading at some points even — before Rutgers pulled away a bit before halftime. The Scarlet Knights shot a poor 8-17 (47 percent) from the free throw line, which can certainly not happen if they want to compete in games against the Big Ten’s elite. Rutgers also had 17 turnovers, many of which were pretty careless. Pikiell should be happy with the win, and it should be celebrated as it was well deserved after a great night of basketball, but these are all things the team must look to improve on before conference play begins.