Jack, Rutgers stymie Penn State, preserve second-half lead for first Big Ten win
Kadeem Jack wasn't going to allow himself to let down the Rutgers men's basketball team again.
Before the Scarlet Knights' Big Ten season began Tuesday, the senior forward messed up. He was late to the team's breakfast. And because of it, he was out of the starting lineup and played only 18 minutes in Rutgers' 51-47 home loss to Northwestern.
Then a few days passed. Then came another chance Saturday — this time against Penn State — and Jack wasn't going to let it go by without another fight.
"Just thinking about the mistakes I made last game, I had to come out here and play real hard," Jack said. "Truthfully, I probably deserved a little bit more [punishment], but [head] coach [Eddie] Jordan took it easy on me and I appreciated that, and I came out strong and very hard."
Displaying the kind of resolve that seniors do in the wake of adversity, Jack responded with 12 points and 11 rebounds to lead Rutgers (9-6, 1-1) to its first-ever Big Ten victory, 50-46.
But more important than even his second double-double of the season, the 6-foot-9, 235-pounder played passionately for 36 minutes.
Offensively, he attacked the basket and crashed the boards. Defensively, he swatted passes and altered shots.
Never was it more evident than with 1:31 left in regulation, when Jack drained a tough left-handed layup in traffic to extend Rutgers' lead to 47-44, sending a season-high crowd of 7,158 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center into a frenzy.
Moments earlier, Jack had fought for a critical offensive rebound. Moments afterward, he found himself high fiving two fans underneath the baseline.
"When he's [playing with] high motor, we know what he can do," Jordan said. "He also has a great extension. He's long, he's thin, he can work around people. ... He has the physical abilities, but it comes from the heart to do it. He had a lot of heart tonight."
The rest of the Knights followed suit, defensively holding down a slim lead the rest of the way just as they had throughout the second half.
It was a wire-to-wire win for Rutgers, which held Penn State (12-2, 0-2) to 28.8 percent shooting from the field, including just 5-of-27 from 3-point range.
As a result, the Knights largely nullified D.J. Newbill. The star guard, who came in leading the Big Ten with 21.9 points per game, finished with just 14 on 4-of-17 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc, where he missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 15 seconds left.
Jordan employed a variety of defensive looks and double teams, but freshman guard Mike Williams and junior guard Bishop Daniels shouldered the bulk of the responsibility.
"Coming into this game, we knew who he was. We knew what he did," said Daniels, who finished with eight points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. "We just locked in at key points and tried to play him to the best of our abilities."
For the second straight game, the Knights put together a stellar defensive outing, swiftly communicating and flying around the perimeter. And they once again won the rebounding battle — the time by the count of 44-36.
Unable to consistently extract double-figure scoring from players outside of Jack and senior guard Myles Mack, who had 10 points against the Nittany Lions, Rutgers really has no other choice in order to compete in the Big Ten.
"We've embraced this defensive mentality and defensive presence, and I guess we better, because we don't have enough scorers," Jordan said with a laugh.
The Knights needed this, though.
They needed to prove they could withstand an all too typical second-half collapse at the RAC. After all, they led by at least seven points for the better part of the first half and 11 at the intermission, yet Penn State brought it within one possession multiple times down the stretch.
In the end, it wasn't pretty. It rarely is in Piscataway.
Still, it gives the Knights something to build on at Nebraska on Thursday before they return home to host No. 4 Wisconsin next Sunday in their stiffest challenge to date.
"We've got to have that dog in us and to know that at the end of the day, no team can come in here and beat us on our home floor anymore," Daniels said. "We've got to be gritty, and I think as a team we're starting to realize that."
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @gregp_j and @TargumSports on Twitter.