Knights fall short behind stagnant offense
The Rutgers men’s basketball team played like a completely different team in last night’s 64-59 loss to No. 22 Memphis than in its 48-point loss Sunday to Louisville.
That excludes when the Scarlet Knights (10-17, 4-10) possessed the ball.
The Knights outscored Memphis, 48-42, after the Tigers (20-6, 9-4) led, 22-11, with 8:19 left in the first half at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. But Memphis still sealed Rutgers’ 10th loss in 12 games.
Memphis forced awkward shots and 37.5 percent field goal shooting, as the Knights yet again showed vulnerability against a pressure defense.
Junior forward Kadeem Jack sank a layup surrounded by blue jerseys, closing Memphis’ lead to 53-49 with 3:45 left. Jack ended with 22 points and 10 rebounds in 36 minutes.
Then Rutgers froze offensively.
The Knights never sank another field goal until junior wing Malick Kone hit his first 3-pointer of the year with 26 seconds left en route to his 10 points.
Jack made another layup and junior guard Myles Mack sank a 3-pointer in transition to make it a 62-59 Memphis lead with 3.5 seconds left.
It came too late, but Rutgers learned to fight until the game ended through its stretch against Southern Methodist, Louisville and Memphis.
“I think [it was] more mental, playing until the final second, not thinking that the game was over until it was actually over,” Jack said postgame. “Myles actually came down, hit the last 3, put us down 3. … Playing until the last second, that’s just a mentality — junkyard dogs.”
Jordan used the same lineup for the final 10:19, when he substituted junior forward Craig Brown for senior forward Wally Judge.
Head coach Eddie Jordan had faith in Jack, Mack, Brown, Kone and freshman forward Junior Etou.
“It gets to a point where you’re just going to play the guys that you really, really trust,” Jordan said, “and guys who will give great effort, guys who are going to give the effort physically, the effort intelligently, the effort emotionally to stay in the game and do things right.”
It is nearly unheard of for a coach to leave in a lineup so long without injuries or foul trouble.
As Rutgers needed an offensive spark down, 47-39, two of its top shooters — junior guard Jerome Seagears and senior wing J.J. Moore — rode the bench in the final minutes.
Judge, who did not start because of a minor team violation, played only six of his 16 minutes in the final period. Moore played only two of his 17 minutes in the second half.
Seagears played only five minutes in the game, all in the first half. Jordan did not admit whether Seagears sat because of a lack of trust.
“I’d rather not comment on that,” Jordan said. “I just liked the way we finished up.”
But Rutgers’ defense significantly upgraded from the Louisville loss.
The Knights’ backcourt kept its feet in front of Memphis’ backcourt, and Rutgers quickly fled out of its zone to cover perimeter shooters.
Mack kept Memphis’ top scorer — point guard Joe Jackson — in check with 11 points off 3-for-12 field goal shooting. The Tigers’ top scorer was guard Michael Dixon Jr., who only scored 15.
After Louisville’s thumping, Rutgers looked like a completely different defensive team in the first half. Memphis only led, 28-21, at halftime and shot 40.7 percent from the field.
The Knights were quick to rotate on Memphis’ swift ball movement and even decreased the Tigers’ lead to one possession.
Kone drove for a layup on a Memphis turnover to make it only a 24-21 Tigers lead with 2:17 left in the first half.
Kone’s layup capped an 8-0 Rutgers run, when Memphis went more than four minutes without scoring.
After Rutgers’ 101-69 loss Feb. 4 to Memphis and Sunday’s 102-54 blunder against Louisville, it was hard for Kone to picture Rutgers contending for an upset against the Tigers.
As Rutgers finished the game with him in a new-look lineup, perhaps the Knights found a new identity.
“Against Louisville, I couldn’t imagine we could’ve lost like that,” Kone said. “That was a lot. But every day’s different. So I guess we got back, talked about it and that was like a lesson for us.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JoshBakan. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.