Knights erase deficit with game winner
As the Rutgers men’s basketball team led South Florida, 74-73, with five seconds left, junior forward Kadeem Jack gave USF forward Victor Rudd something to laugh about.
“I actually told him [during the dead ball on that play], ‘I know it’s coming to you, so I’m going to play up on you hard,’” Jack said postgame.
Jack staunchly raised his arms and straightened his legs against Rudd, who scored 26 points Saturday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
The Bulls led by as much as 50-35 with 17:11 left in the game before Rutgers’ comeback, and Rudd was a major part of that.
Rudd’s game-winning attempt hopped off the rim twice, eventually falling into USF center John Egbunu’s hands. Egbunu’s put-back layup rolled off the rim’s front as time expired.
The Knights held their 74-73 lead, and Jack had the last laugh.
USF (12-17, 3-13) held possession with 11 seconds left.
To avoid defensive mismatches, head coach Eddie Jordan gave his perimeter players man-to-man assignments.
The only exceptions were Jack and senior forward Wally Judge.
Jack began on USF’s right on the post. Then he switched to its left about 10 feet from the hoop, where Rudd got the ball and immediately shot.
“If they beat us, they’re going to beat us on a one-on-one move or a loosely contested defensive play,” Jordan said. “But it won’t be we lost a man who got an open shot or a guy got a slip to the rim.
But Rutgers (11-18, 5-11) trailed, 73-72, with 32.8 seconds remaining and possession. The last time Rutgers needed a game-winning shot, senior wing J.J. Moore settled for an NBA-range 3-pointer Wednesday against Central Florida with nine seconds left to shoot.
The Knights were more methodical in this possession, working around the perimeter and setting screens.
Then Moore fed Jack in the paint.
Jack dribbled as a double team shifted on him. He bent his back on a jumper by the semicircle under the hoop.
The Queens native scored, once again successful against a USF double team en route to 20 points in 36 minutes.
“He took it upon himself. He was accountable,” Jordan said. “One of the big plays at UCF was the drive dunk, and Kadeem probably should have been there for a shot block or taken a charge, so again, there’s a lot of things you learn from losing and we won because for three-and-a-half minutes we didn’t play tough enough at UCF.”
Moore and junior guard Jerome Seagears played important roles in the final rotation. Moore generated 20 points, and Seagears posted four assists.
Seagears played a combined 12 minutes in the last two games. He was not available for postgame comment.
After playing only two minutes in the second half Feb. 20 against Memphis, Moore worked his way into the late-game rotation against UCF.
Delivering a game-winning assist to Jack, Moore put his previous rotation exclusion behind him.
“[There were] definitely thoughts of why, but at game time, you’ve just got to move on,” Moore said of decreased playing time. “We lost that game. We came out here and competed today, so it just feels good to be a part of closing the game.”