"They played harder than us", said Rutgers coach Fred Hill, in the aftermath of last night's much tougher-than-expected win over Dartmouth. "They out scrapped us. They were tougher than us. They deserved to win", he said. When asked then if there was anything he was happy about afterwards, he replied: "That we found a way to win". Indeed, considering that RU is coming off a season that saw them win just 10 games, perhaps a win - any win, regardless of the opponent - should be a cause for optimism.
After all, in this brief college basketball season so far, Belmont has dumped Alabama, Mercer has defeated USC, and, in perhaps the biggest shocker so far, Gardner-Webb upset Kentucky - at Kentucky. (Meanwhile, right here in New Jersey, Seton Hall had to play consecutive overtime games to defeat Monmouth and Robert Morris) So perhaps when viewed in this context, RU's struggles last night are hardly such an aberration, and their play last night not a unique abomination.
Of course, there is no doubt that it did indeed take two to tango, and while Dartmouth did play well, RU certainly did not - at least offensively. The Scarlet Knights shot only 20 for 48 from the field for a paltry 41.7%, including a totally abysmal 1of 14 from three-point land (the Knights also struggled from the free throw line, missing 9 out of 23 attempts). The 55 points RU scored were the fewest amount of points they've scored in any game so far this year, and their struggles last night harkened back to last year's woefully offensively-challenged team (which scored fewer than 60 points an incredible 16 times) - with the one big distinction being that RU this year found a way to win.
They found a way to win last night with defense. "We got a great defensive effort, particularly in the second half", said Hill. "In the second half we held them to 27% shooting, and that's good defense. We won this game on defense", he said. Offensively, RU was led last night in scoring by Jaron Griffin, who scored 11 points, but that came on just 3 for 10 shooting (the most shot attempts by an RU player last night), and just 1 for 6 beyond the arc. Anthony Farmer was next with 10 points (5 for 9 on fga's), and it was another strong game for him. "Anthony played a terrific floor game", said Hill.
JR Inman had 9 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. He was somewhat out of the flow offensively, particularly in the first half, but stepped up big early in the second half. "JR is a very unselfish player", said Hill. "He got on the boards for us. He helped us in other ways, and that's what good players do", he said. The player that clearly struggled the most last night was Corey Chandler, who was 0 for 6 from the field, committed three turnovers, and played just 13 minutes. The goose egg in points snapped Chandler's streak of four consecutive games in double-figures, and his struggles last night were a sharp departure from his earlier impressive play. Still, Hill said he is hardly worried, stating that, "Corey played like a typical freshman. He's had games were he's been playing well, so I was expecting this. I'm not concerned. We put it behind us and move on".
Where one door closes (at least temporarily), another one opens, and thus the RU player that benefited the most from Chandler's extended time on the bench last night was fellow freshman Mike Coburn. Coburn himself had been struggling in his first few college games, but has begun playing well of late. Last night he played 26 minutes, scored 9 points (including some big buckets in the second half as RU was mounting its comeback), and led Rutgers with three assists. However, the player that continues to improve, and can perhaps give Rutgers its biggest lift as Hill continues his efforts to turn the program around, is sophomore center Hamady Ndiaye.
Ndiaye once again found himself in foul trouble, but it should indeed be encouraging that it was it just fouls problems that were his biggest problem last night. Ndiaye was limited to 20 minutes because of it, but still managed to score 8 points, pull down 9 rebounds, and block 4 shots in essentially just half a game. The bottom line is that when he was out there, he was clearly the best and most dominant player on the court. Skeptics may scoff and say it was just Dartmouth, but he also played well against Florida - and it appears to have been that game that may have been the turning point in his young career.
Said Hamady: "The game against Florida opened my eyes. Playing against an opponent that was that much better made me realize that maybe I can do this". He went on: "I kind of played well and did what I was pretty much supposed to do the whole game. I was just like, 'maybe I can do this every game now and bring that every time'. I've been working on my game the entire summer and I just feel way more comfortable with ball on the post or anywhere, so now I just pretty much ask for the ball wherever I'm at".
So five games into his second year at RU, and five games into Fred Hill's second
year as RU's head coach, Hamady Ndiaye has begun to come on. If anything, RU
fans should be excited about the obvious improvement of a player that may eventually
wind up having as big an impact on RU basketball as any player ever has. He
still has a long way to go, but he's becoming a force already. What he'll be
like in a year or two one can only imagine, and it will most certainly be fun