Knights extend season despite foul issues
MEMPHIS — When senior forward Wally Judge heard the whistle on South Florida forward Victor Rudd’s layup, he instantly knew he had fouled out.
Judge removed his headband for what was possibly the final time after leaving the game last night against South Florida. If the last-seeded Bulls defeated the Rutgers men’s basketball team in the first round of the AAC Tournament, Judge had to sit for the final 5:04 of it.
Rutgers led only 59-58 as Rudd held two free throws. Rudd missed the first and screamed like he found a dead body.
He missed the second, too, allowing Rutgers to hold onto a 72-68 victory at the FedEx Forum.
Judge’s career and seventh-seeded Rutgers’ (12-20, 4-13) season expanded another 40 minutes for this afternoon against second-seeded Louisville (26-5, 15-3). Judge developed some momentum entering the game with a 15-point, 10-rebound performance.
Rudd and guard Martino Brock played swift basketball in the final minute to disintegrate Rutgers’ lead to two. But intentional fouls prevented the comeback.
The Knights banded together in the post when Judge’s fifth personal drained their frontcourt depth.
As Rutgers led, 65-62, with a minute remaining, junior forward Kadeem Jack, senior wing J.J. Moore and junior wing Malick Kone crowded the paint.
Moore sent a block on Brock out of bounds with 53 seconds remaining. After USF (12-20, 3-16) re-gathered, Kone partially blocked Rudd’s interior jumper. Then center Chris Perry’s layup was off and the offensive rebound shifted off the rim to Rutgers.
“We didn’t want to have to worry about a guy getting to the rim or worry about a shot blocker,” said head coach Eddie Jordan postgame. “They got to the rim too much for my taste. They got too many layups. But when it was time to get some stops, we shrunk the floor with team coverage and got some key rebounds.”
Unfortunately for Judge, his fourth personal foul with 8:33 left drained Rutgers’ post depth for the three minutes he left the game.
Jack reentered for the Knights with 8:56 left, putting a forward with 15 points and nine rebounds on the floor for Rutgers at the time.
When Jack returned, he burned his third personal foul with 7:54 remaining.
“Just being physical and staying out of foul trouble because I knew Wally was already out,” Jack said of his late-game worries.
The difference came when Rutgers developed an 8-0 run through smart decisions with the ball and control of transition.
Junior guard Myles Mack, who scored 16, capped the run with a swift, deep 3-pointer at the top of the arc with 16:16 left in the game.
Rutgers’ frontcourt continued to take advantage of offensive touches. Jack, who only had seven field goal attempts all game, opened the run with a midrange shot. Judge scored the next three.
Ultimately, Jack still ended with 18 points.
Rutgers entered halftime with a 40-37 lead, surviving the Bulls’ 24-12 paint domination.
“Me, Kadeem and the guys always talk about confidence and just staying together,” Mack said. “We stayed together throughout the first half.”
When the tempo accelerated and USF forced Rutgers into careless basketball in the first half, the Knights flinched.
Brock stole the ball from Judge, hurling the ball to the speedy and strong Rudd. Rudd’s charismatic dunk slid USF to only a 37-35 deficit with 1:54 left in the first half.
But Judge played effectively when Rutgers fed him the ball. Judge scored with pinpoint accuracy in the first half, recording 10 points, 3-for-3 field goal shooting and 4-for-4 free throw shooting.
But Judge still only received three field goal attempts in 17 minutes that period. Jack only got two first-half attempts, shooting 1-for-2 with 14 points.
Judge and the Knights still survived, though, now able to test their chances against a Louisville team that beat them Feb. 16, 102-54.
“It’s a national stage. It’s a great challenge,” Jordan said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to play with a lot of wconfidence, to show people where we are.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JoshBakan. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.