Jack's woes hurt Rutgers in conference opener
Entering the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s first-ever game in the renowned Big Ten conference, a strong first impression was ideal.
But as they prepared to host Northwestern at the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights began without one of their top scorers.
Senior forward Kadeem Jack watched the opening 11 minutes of the game from the bench after showing up late to a mandatory team breakfast.
“We’re trying to build a program the correct way, and that’s one of the steps you have to take,” head coach Eddie Jordan said postgame.
When Jack did enter the game with the Knights leading by four, the star forward struggled to find his rhythm, missing all eight of his shots from the field and turning the ball over twice.
One of those turnovers came when Northwestern guard Tre Demps stripped Jack after he had collected a rebound, immediately scoring a 3-point shot to shift the game's momentum.
Jack finished the game with a season-low two points in 18 minutes. In a game remarkably decided by a few individual plays, the poor performance proved costly.
“I think I was a big distraction starting the game off like that,” Jack said of missing breakfast. “And anytime something like that happens I’m supposed to be one of the leaders of this team, I think that’s kind of disgraceful and [I] place some blame [for the loss] on myself.”
The woes on offense could not have come at a worse time. The Knights’ defense held Northwestern to 51 points and 39 percent shooting from the field — the Wildcats’ second lowest total of the season.
It was also Rutgers’ seventh time holding an opponent to less than 60 points in a game this season.
“Look, we’ve been a very good defensive team all year, Jordan said. “I don’t know what you guys think, I don’t know what you guys write. I don’t read it, but I know we’ve been very good defensively, and that shows character.”
A main component to the Knights’ defensive success came from the strong marking by junior center Greg Lewis and freshman center Shaquille Doorson on center Alex Olah.
Olah entered the matchup as Northwestern’s third-leading scorer, averaging 11 points per game, but struggled give his side an inside presence, something that showed during the Wildcats’ 10-minute field goal drought in the second half.
Olah finished with 2 points and shot 0-for-3 from the field, with all his attempts coming from the 3-point line.
“The bulk of the game plan was, take away Olah, his lows to the basket, their execution of high low action for them, him in the post,” Jordan said. “So we executed our game plan very well. We had to give our centers support … and we did that tremendously well.”
With difficult games against Penn State, at Nebraska and versus Wisconsin looming, Tuesday's home loss was one the Knights will want to have back.
Not only because Northwestern is known as one of the consistent bottom dwellers of the Big Ten conference — the Wildcats have never appeared in an NCAA tournament — but also because it serves as an eye opener to how far Rutgers still has to go as a basketball program.
But with a strong defense that held even No. 3 Virginia to its lowest point total total of the season back on Nov. 29, the Knights remain optimistic of the tough journey ahead.
"Those stops that we got were terrific," Mack said. "We just needed to finish on the other end, and we weren't capable of it today."
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.