Call this hyperbole, call it what you will, but if there was any pre-game doubt about the outcome of Rutgers men’s basketball’s opening matchup against Columbia on Nov. 7 (there really shouldn’t have been), it was wiped away five seconds after tipoff when Paul Mulcahy found Cliff Omoruyi for an emphatic alley-oop dunk before a primed Rutgers student section. The highlight-reel play immediately sent fans into a frenzy and marked the beginning of a 15-0 Rutgers run that Columbia could never recover from.
Picked to finish last in the Ivy League’s preseason poll, not a whole lot was (or still is) expected from this very young, very inexperienced Lions squad. We hate to pile on, but if not for the great atmosphere provided by a packed (relatively speaking for a non-conference game of this caliber) Jersey Mike’s Arena, this affair didn’t provide a ton of juice and was far less of a test for the Scarlet Knights than last week’s exhibition with Fairfield.
The Good: Rutgers won by 40 without Caleb McConnell and nobody got injured (apart from Mulcahy, who took a knock to his left shoulder in the first half but returned to the game). What’s not to like? Paul Mulcahy & Co. came out with a purpose tonight and the Rutgers faithful must have appreciated it, particularly after some of the bewildering performances in non-conference play last season.
Cam Spencer looks like he could be an integral piece: a guy that can give you solid minutes, fill it up from three and thereby stretch the defense. Based on this performance alone there’s actually a lot to like about his game beyond the good shooting-touch. Spencer consistently looked for the open man and made the right pass, was comfortable going to the hole and finishing after contact, and, on the defensive end, he’s got active hands and an aptitude for creating turnovers.
The Scarlet Knights didn’t need Cliff Omoruyi to dominate tonight and he certainly didn’t have his best game, but he did give us all a glimpse of that shiny, new three-point shot that’s apparently in his bag now.
The Bad: Rutgers went comatose midway through the first half, tallying just six points in nearly 10 minutes of play. Their scoring drought was met with a Columbia run that saw a double-digit lead shrink to four points. An air of concern never took hold in Steve Pikiell’s squad, though, as Rutgers ended the half with a 6-0 run of their own and headed to the locker room holding a 31-21 advantage that would only grow considerably in the second half.
As you’d expect, there was the usual first game sloppiness: missed bunnies, poor free throw shooting, etc.—nothing that would imply systemic issues or inspire legitimate concern, though.
The Numbers: All five starters scored in double figures. As a team Rutgers, shot 43.1% from the floor, 40% from 3PT and 35.7% (woof) from the stripe. On defense, they notably held Columbia to 23.4% from the field (11 made FGs in the entire game) and 4.8% from 3PT.
Perhaps tonight’s points column of the box score is immaterial considering the margin of victory and the fact that it’s only game one, but it was a little surprising (especially with McConnell sidelined due to injury) to see just 10 points each from Mulcahy and Omoruyi. As the level of competition increases, Rutgers will rely heavily on all three players for scoring.
Cam Spencer had the stat line of the night: 17 pts (leading scorer, 7-13 from the floor, 3-5 from behind the arc), 2 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 steals. Replacing the production of Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker is a monumental challenge for this squad so hopefully Spencer can continue to be a legitimate contributor and a boon for the Rutgers offense. Aundre Hyatt also had a nice game and finished with a double-double.
What can be gleaned from tonight’s contest? Not a whole lot, really, except that this team has the discipline, leadership and focus to do exactly what they’re supposed to do against an inferior opponent at home, early in the season. On to Sacred Heart.
What, you didn’t expect NJ Indy to cover a sporting event? Well, strap in, folks, because it’s college hoops season and no matter what you’ve heard, this is a basketball state. Fans of Seton Hall, Rutgers and all NJ schools should keep this page bookmarked throughout the ‘22-’23 season for game recaps and weekly previews. With Princeton, Rider, Rutgers and Seton Hall all vying for a March Madness bid, expectations in the state haven’t been this high since the last time four NJ teams made the postseason tourney in 1991.
Up Next: Monmouth vs Seton Hall at The Rock, Wednesday @ 8 p.m.