On Thursday night in Piscataway, Steve Pikiell became the sixth coach in Rutgers’ history to win 100 games with the program. Juniors Aundre Hyatt (forward), Cliff Omoruyi (center) and senior Cam Spencer (guard) combined for 54 points (19, 17 and 18, respectively) in what proved to be an unsurprisingly lopsided 88-50 victory for the Scarlet Knights (2-0) over Sacred Heart University (1-1) of the Northeast Conference.
Typically, the dispatching of a low-major opponent like the Pioneers isn’t particularly illuminating, however, there were some interesting (mostly positive) takeaways from tonight’s matchup that should have implications for the weeks ahead.
The Good: Once again, Cam Spencer impressed. Instead of just being a nice addition to the team, Spencer has more often than not been the best player on the floor. The transfer guard from Loyola has been clinical on defense: 8 defensive rebounds and 9 steals over 60 minutes of play. On offense, through two games: 35 points (58.3 FG%, 54.5 3PT%, 100% from the FT line) and an 11:1 assist to turnover ratio. The stats are great, but his feel for the game is really something to behold—he always knows where to be and what to do with the ball. Still early, but it would seem that Pikiell found a special one in the portal this time.
With Caleb McConnell sidelined, Aundre Hyatt is seizing the opportunity to assert himself as a real scoring threat and someone who can stretch the defense. 19 points is a phenomenal total for Hyatt but, of the 19, the most important six points came as a result of two 3-point shots. In order to capitalize on having one of the best centers in the country, Rutgers needs viable options on the perimeter for Omoruyi to kick the ball out to when he gets doubled. If Hyatt can continue to knock down threes at a high percentage (57.1%), opposing defenses will have another player besides Spencer to account for on the outside, thereby creating space for big Cliff to work.
Speaking of stretching the defense: Freshman guard Derek Simpson could yet bolster the Scarlet Knights 3-point shooting options as well. Coming off a steady performance vs Columbia, the Mount Laurel native took advantage of increased playing time (27 minutes) against the Pioneers, posting a stat-line of 11 points (including a 3-pointer), 2 assists and 3 steals. Simpson’s talent and athleticism are undeniable, and his well-documented scoring prowess (particularly from behind the arc) in high school would imply that his minutes could become increasingly productive on the offensive end going forward.
The (somewhat) Bad: if you happened to miss the game and just glanced at Cliff Omoruyi’s stat line (17 pts, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals), you’d assume that the celebrated big-man put forth a performance beyond criticism. And you’d be right—apart from one little, annoying, almost irrelevant note. Omoruyi did really well to nearly double his point total from the previous contest despite being constantly double-teamed by Sacred Heart; however, there were multiple occasions where he found himself with the ball on the low block, in a one-on-one situation (against a significantly disadvantaged defender with respect to height, wingspan and athletic ability), and failed to convert layups. If Omoruyi can limit the missed bunnies going forward, and prove his extended shooting range is legit, some individual hardware may be well within his (sizable) reach this year.
Paul Mulcahy looked uncomfortable on offense tonight. Was it the shoulder? Was it just a bad game? Probably a mixture of the two, but regardless of the explanation for his tough night, Rutgers will sorely need more offensive production from its talisman come December. It’s worth mentioning that although the senior captain from Bayonne only tallied 4 points, he still managed to contribute in other areas, notably: 5 rebounds, 6 assists and four steals.
In the latter part of the first half, as Sacred Heart mounted the closest thing to a run they had all game, the margin continuously hovered around 10 points (never got closer than nine). Even as the Pioneers worked hard to trim the deficit during a few minutes of sloppy play by Rutgers, the matchup still didn’t seem very competitive. It’s always easy for some folks to nitpick or find something to complain about, but, after another near 40-point victory without McConnell (injury) and a limited Mulcahy, if you’re bitching about this win, we’re of the opinion that you’ll never be pleased.
The Numbers: Holding the advantage in at least one statistical category on a box score is guaranteed with a win. Besting your opponent in every material team stat is emblematic of a dominant performance—as was the case for Rutgers in this contest. It’s also worth pointing out that a stifling Scarlet Knights defense forced a whopping 25 turnovers for the second straight game.
Moment of Zen: Derek Simpson must have been watching some vintage Knicks-Bulls playoff highlights as he attempted to channel his inner-John Starks during the first half tonight. Unfortunately. Simpson’s version of “the dunk” (although driving from the left side, unlike Starks) never materialized, as he hugged the baseline a little too tight and got rejected by the side of the backboard. Gotta love that confidence from a frosh, though.
Next up: UMASS Lowell, Saturday (11/12), 2 p.m. @ Jersey Mike’s Arena