Imbalance on offense threatens Knights
It is no secret where most of the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s scoring will come from.
Through the first six games the season, sophomore guards Eli Carter and Myles Mack top the Scarlet Knights in scoring with a combined 31.5 points per game.
But head coach Mike Rice would prefer that not be the case.
“We have to have balance,” Rice said. “We get the ball down to [junior forward] Wally [Judge] and Wally has to produce, go strong to the basket and stop fading away. … When things don’t go right, our response can’t be, ‘OK Eli, you get to jack the first three,’ or ‘Myles, you have to do it all on your own.’”
Of the five that started Saturday’s loss at Mississippi, guards took 29 shots while forwards attempted only 11.
That means when the team’s inside players get the ball, they have to convert. Senior forward Austin Johnson has taken advantage, ranking fifth in the Big East with a 62.1 field goal percentage.
“[Johnson] has become a lot more confident post player, whether it’s grabbing rebounds or scoring,” Judge said. “He’s playing great and he’s helping his team.”
Johnson and Judge command the majority of minutes at the post, but sophomore Kadeem Jack has slowly earned more playing time.
Averaging 13.3 minutes a game — a five-minute jump from last season — Jack leads the team in blocks with nine and is fourth with 3.8 rebounds per game.
Judge knows the importance of the younger forwards as well as anyone.
“I think we all feed off each other,” he said. “With Kadeem and [sophomore forward] Derrick [Randall], they’re learning but they still bring a presence to the game that we need. They run the floor, the rebound and they help us out a lot.”
Of the four post players, Randall sees the least amount of time on the court, averaging only 5.5 minutes per game.
But that is not because Rice does not think Randall can contribute. It is more because of the other three.
“I think it’s our strength,” Rice said of the team’s depth at forward. “Derrick Randall is playing well in practice. I want to get him on the floor, but [Johnson] is shooting 66 percent … and Kadeem is a stat-sheet stuffer with his rebounds and blocked shots. That’s the deepest position we have right now.”
The Knights have been beat consistently on the boards, being out-rebounded by many teams and are aware it will not be any easier once they enter the conference portion of their schedule.
Their forwards need to make more of an impact on both ends of the court for a team that ranks eighth in the Big East in scoring offense and 13th in scoring defense.
That begins with rebounding.
“It’s an emphasis for the whole team, whether it’s daily practice during the season, postseason, preseason, everything,” Judge said. “We always focus on rebounding and being aggressors instead of being the ones that react.”
Rebounding has an impact on both sides of the ball.
On defense, the rebounds end opposing possessions. That then translates to the offensive end.
The Knights score many of their points in transition, and with smaller guards, they rely on the forwards to pull down rebounds and kick the ball out.
“Coach Rice has been emphasizing pushing the ball ahead, and it starts with me, [Johnson] and Kadeem grabbing the rebounds and sometimes even the guards getting rebounds,” Judge said. “They’ve been doing a great job looking up the floor and we’ve been running the floor to get the shooters open on the wings, and it’s been working for us so far.”
Judge said he knows the guards are not going to make every shot — evidenced by Carter’s 1-for-12 performance Saturday against Ole Miss — and when they do, the forwards need to be there to clean it up.
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