Jack begins to peak at crucial time of season
The goal of the Rutgers men’s basketball team to finish sixth in the AAC is modest, but head coach Eddie Jordan wondered if the Scarlet Knights are truly worthy.
“We had to have some type of redemption,” Jordan said after the Scarlet Knights’ 64-59 loss Thursday to Memphis. “The first thing I asked [pregame] was, ‘Do we belong?’”
Junior forward Kadeem Jack had the answer to Jordan’s question.
Memphis pounded Jack in the post and forced bad angles on his midrange shots. But as Jack worked toward his 22-point, 10-rebound performance, he kept Rutgers competitive against the No. 21 team.
Jack recorded 18 points and seven rebounds in the second half, also shooting 10-for-14 from the field.
The Queens native finally showed why he is an NBA prospect, averaging 14.5 points and 6.9 boards per game.
Since Jan. 25 against Connecticut, Jack holds 19.1-point and 7.3-rebound averages per game. Rutgers stands one game behind Houston for sixth in the conference.
Jack continues to peak at a convenient time for the Knights, which validates junior wing Malick Kone’s faith in him.
“I always tell him before the game, ‘Just be ready. I’m going to pass you the ball inside. We need you. You have to score,’” Kone said. “… I like him a lot because he always listens to what I try to tell him.”
Jack continues to carry a frontcourt that lacks consistent scoring outside of him.
Senior forward Wally Judge only scored more than 5 points in nine games this season. He also only played 16 minutes against Memphis, not starting because of a minor team violation.
Sophomore forward Greg Lewis’ offensive arsenal is underdeveloped, as the 6-foot-9, 260-pounder averages 1.6 points per game this year.
Jordan used the same lineup for the final 10:19 against the Tigers. Neither Judge nor Lewis played that frame, forcing Jack to center, to which he is accustomed.
The lineup was Jack, Kone, junior guard Myles Mack, freshman forward Junior Etou and junior forward Craig Brown.
Jordan’s replacing of Judge with Brown was the final substitution of the game.
“I wanted to use every guy. I wanted our guys to be a part of growing and coming together,” Jordan said. “But you put the rope out there, and guys who don’t tow the rope the right way [make it] a short rotation. It is trust, and the guys are going to do what we want to be done.”
Jack scored 6 of 8 Rutgers points within four minutes. That culminated in a heavy-traffic layup that gave the Knights only a 53-49 deficit with 3:49 remaining.
Jordan trusted Jack enough to play him for 36 minutes. Etou also clocked in 36 minutes, and Mack played 35.
Those were the usual starters Jordan trusted in those final minutes, as Judge and senior wing J.J. Moore combined for 33 minutes against Memphis.
“We just had to band together and kind of just try to pull it through because I think he liked what we were producing on the floor,” Jack said. “And he just wanted us to keep doing that and tried to ride it all the way out.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JoshBakan. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.