Knights near upset in final home match
As the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s chances of upsetting No. 15 Cincinnati hinged on the AAC’s leading scorer’s fingertips, the Louis Brown Athletic Center shook at seismic levels.
Senior wing J.J. Moore, playing his final home and regular-season game, decently defended guard Sean Kilpatrick throughout the Scarlet Knights’ 70-66 loss.
Kilpatrick heated up for 22 points before Cincinnati’s final possession Saturday, but he missed his first six field goal attempts.
Even though Moore’s defense was respectable, the Knights (11-20, 5-13) desperately needed a stop when Cincinnati (26-5, 15-3) owned possession with 30 seconds left and a 68-66 lead.
Head coach Eddie Jordan, preparing for Kirkpatrick to get the ball, put junior guard Jerome Seagears on him.
“I didn’t want J.J. on him,” Jordan said postgame. “I think Jerome can do better from that distance where he started [around half court]. If you don’t put a real major, major stop on a kid like that, he’s just going to have an advantage.”
Seagears, who played nine minutes all game, was not enough for Rutgers to potentially upset a team with a 15-game winning streak this season.
Kilpatrick acted as the calm amid the RAC’s chaos, with 6,650 in attendance. The Yonkers, N.Y., native anticipated his lane, darted past Seagears and raced to a layup with 17 seconds remaining.
Junior forward Kadeem Jack shifted from the right too late to help in the paint, but he was Rutgers’ lone interior presence.
Once senior forward Wally Judge fouled out with 1:08 remaining, Jordan inserted Seagears. The rest of the small lineup was Jack at center, Moore at the four and guards Myles Mack and Kerwin Okoro.
But Rutgers, especially Jack, competitively scraped the boards against Cincinnati. The Bearcats entered the game second in the AAC with a plus-five rebounding margin.
But the Knights outrebounded Cincinnati, 39-34. Jack ended with 15 points and 12 rebounds, often teething his way through double teams.
“I don’t really think about the second guy coming,” Jack said. “I just get into my move, and I kind of adjust late and get the ball up.”
Kilpatrick scored Cincinnati’s final 5 points, but forward Justin Jackson’s previous basket was arguably the Bearcats’ turning point.
Jack forced Jackson’s layup attempt to rim out with 1:46 left, as Rutgers led, 64-63. Jackson rebounded and made his layup, giving Cincinnati a permanent lead.
But Rutgers played mostly mistake-free against one of the conference’s and nation’s top teams. The Knights and Cincinnati exchanged second-half leads once Mack made a jumper with 3:18 left, giving Rutgers a 64-63 advantage.
Rutgers’ only gaping error came when Moore launched a half-court shot with six seconds remaining in the first half. Another bucket would have been useful for the Knights, who trailed, 35-28, at halftime.
Moore cringed and buried his head in his palm, later admitting he lost track of time in his 19-point performance.
“As soon as I saw the ball go up, I looked at the time,” Moore said. “It was [six seconds]. I knew that was a dumb shot. I told the team I apologize for it.”
But Jordan instead viewed this game as the perfect tune-up for Rutgers’ opening AAC Tournament game Wednesday against 10th-seeded South Florida.
Although Rutgers’ record is poor, Jordan has the Knights right where he wants them.
“The process has been successful so far, doesn’t matter what the record is,” he said. “We learned how to compete with integrity. We learned how to compete with composure.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JoshBakan. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.Knights near upset in final home match