Junior thrives with extended minutes against South Florida
While junior forward Kadeem Jack and senior forward J.J. Moore were essential to the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s 74-73 victory Saturday against South Florida, the Scarlet Knights got an added boost from an unlikely source.
Junior guard Jerome Seagears, who played a combined 12 minutes in his last two games, needed just 13 minutes to spark the Knights’ comeback.
It started with about 12:17 remaining on the time clock. Thanks to the play of junior guard Myles Mack and Jack, the Knights were only down, 49-52, coming back from a 15-point second-half deficit.
South Florida had just answered with a couple of free throws to extend the lead, 49-54, when Seagears stepped up.
On the Knights’ next possession, Seagears buried a long-range 3-pointer to bring Rutgers within 2.
Tied at 55, the Knights caught the Bulls in transition and Seagears found Moore on a perfectly lobbed alley-oop pass to give Rutgers its first lead since the first half, sending the crowd into full pandemonium.
Seagears also added a 2-point basket following a strong drive to the lane. He played in the crucial final minutes for the first time since head coach Eddie Jordan had recently played Seagears less.
Though Seagears shot poorly from the field, going 2-for-7 and 1-for-4 from 3, he finished with four assists to lead the team and logged 22 minutes — his longest time on the court since the Knights’ 77-65 home loss Feb. 14 to Southern Methodist.
Seagears was not available for comment, but his teammates were quick to praise him on his all-around performance.
“He was real valuable,” Moore said. “He came in and hit a 3 … and his defense was unbelievable, so that’s a big valuable win for us from his part.”
Another positive to build on for the Knights was their amount of turnovers allowed.
Rutgers finished with only four turnovers — their season average is 12 per game — and only turned the ball over once during its second-half comeback.
It was the Knights’ second-lowest amount of turnovers allowed this season — Rutgers had three turnovers in a 79-76 loss to the UAB Blazers on Nov. 11 — a stat that even surprised Jordan.
“Wow, I didn’t even know that,” Jordan said. “Sometimes when you don’t turn it over, you’re taking bad shots sometimes, so I just didn’t lock in on that. I know our bench came in … and we trusted the offense a little bit more than we have.”
The Knights’ four-game losing streak was put to an end in the victory, while the Bulls’ losing streak was extended to six games.
Rutgers’ hopes of attaining the 6-seed and a first-round bye during the AAC tournament is still a long shot, with the Knights needing wins over both Connecticut and No. 11 Cincinnati in their last two games.
But the victory ensures Rutgers is still in contention. If nothing else, the dramatic win could serve as some vital motivation down the stretch.
For now the Knights are focused on enjoying the victory.
“It’s real good,” Jack said of Rutgers’ comeback win. “Last game [against UCF] we weren’t able to close the game out. I think this game we showed everybody that we can do that.”