Men's basketball: Knights find offensive consistency against SHU
NEWARK — The Rutgers men’s basketball team needed a win — badly.
After dropping 11 of their last 12 games, the Scarlet Knights found themselves sharing a court with the only team they had beaten during that span, in-state rival Seton Hall.
The opponent was not a concern for Rutgers — only the end result, which ended up being a 56-51 Rutgers victory, mattered.
“Whether it was a rivalry game … didn’t matter,” said head coach Mike Rice. “It was a win. The way we did it — because we slept-walked through the first half — we responded and found a way.”
The Knights committed 10 turnovers in the first half and hit only three of their 13 shots from inside the arc.
Something during the halftime break woke up Rutgers’ inside game for the second half, as it went 11-for-19 from close range in the final 20 minutes.
The performance was a big step entering the Big East Tournament, especially considering the loss the Knights endured last month.
In a game against DePaul on Feb. 16, sophomore guard Eli Carter — the team’s leading scorer — suffered an injury to his right leg that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
The team has been trying to find a way to replace Carter’s production since then.
In the first four games since Carter’s injury, the offense struggled to find its identity, posting only one complete offensive game in a 76-72 loss to Providence.
But against the Pirates, especially in the second half, the Knights looked as though they may have found a way to work around Carter’s absence.
While the offense is still very guard-centered, there is much more balance than there used to be.
Of Rutgers’ 56 points, 22 came in the paint. Increased inside points and offensive balance have been the trend without Carter
“If everybody can contribute the way we [did against Seton Hall], it makes us a difficult team,” said junior guard Mike Poole. “When everybody is … locked in like we are, we’re a tough team.”
Poole brought up recent games against tougher opponents, including Georgetown and Marquette — both of whom earned a share of the regular season title over the weekend — in which the Knights competed but could not seal the win, as more proof of the team’s potential.
It begins with offensive balance.
Against the Pirates, sophomore guards Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears led the way with 15 and 10 points, respectively.
They were not alone. Three other Knights scored at least five points while three others netted four. Possibly more telling was the lack of a dependency on 3-pointers — of which Rutgers hit only five of their 14 attempts and none in the second half.
“It means you can find ways to win, and this team hasn’t always done that,” Rice said of the team’s second-half production without the three. “The winner usually finds a way to win.”
The impending conference split partially overshadowed the Knights’ win, which made Friday night’s game the last Big East meeting between the two New Jersey rivals.
The Big East announced Friday that it will allow the Catholic 7 schools — the Pirates along with DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s and Villanova — to leave the conference June 30 for a 10-team league along with Butler, Xavier and Creighton, according to ESPN.com.
The league will reportedly keep the Big East name and have the rights to have its conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Both Rice and Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said they want to keep the rivalry going and plan to play once a year.
“We’re going to try and play the last weekend of December — after Christmas and before New Year’s,” Willard said. “That’s our goal.”
Willard said each team needs to work out the specifics of their new conference schedules, but he expects to be able to put the first of these annual meetings on next season’s schedule.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.