Role players prove vital in Rutgers' historic win
The symptoms of a special night in Piscataway were there. It started when No. 4 Wisconsin announced that star forward and preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky would miss Sunday's game with concussion-like symptoms after sustaining a blow to the head against Purdue on Wednesday.
Then during a timeout in the first half, a lucky Rutgers basketball fan brought the 6,987 people who filled Louis Brown Athletic Center to their feet after amazingly sinking a half-court shot.
But there was nothing special about the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s performance when it entered the locker room at halftime trailing the heavily favored Badgers by 12.
That was until the three seniors who decided to stick around following the Mike Rice scandal stepped up.
Forward Kadeem Jack started the shift in momentum after a thunderous dunk off a steal brought the Scarlet Knights within 10 following several frustrating calls against him. Then guard Myles Mack sank his first four 3-point attempts in the second half to bring Rutgers even.
Though the performances of Mack and Jack, who scored a team-high 21 and 20 points each, cannot be understated, it was wing Malick Kone who played a decisive role in Rutgers' 67-62 win.
“Unsung hero for us tonight,” Jordan said of Kone. “He was part of the practices that where we had our forwards together he led them and we can switch. He’s a great defender in the post, on the ball … unsung hero, and I always knew he was there and I probably should have used him before now a little bit more.”
After playing just five minutes in the first half, Kone logged 17 minutes after the break and made every second count.
The 6-foot-5 Conakry, Guinea native was superb on both ends of the floor, scoring a season-high seven points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field.
That included a clutch jump shot from the top of the key and a 3-point shot from the baseline to bring Rutgers within two — only his second made 3-pointer of the season.
But Kone’s contribution on the defensive end was just as important. Following a game-high 10 points in the first half from Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker who was bullying his defenders, Kone spent most of the second half trying to disrupt his rhythm.
He did just that, helping hold Dekker to five second-half points and two made field goals as he finished 0-4 from beyond the arc.
Kone also tied a season-high in rebounds (three) which included the final rebound on a missed 3 by Badgers forward Nigel Hayes to seal Rutgers' historic victory.
Having played sparingly this season, which included not seeing a minute in the Knights’ last two games, being thrust into such a big game was a test of nerves but one Kone certainly passed.
“I always talk to myself before practice and say ‘Go there, work hard, prepare yourself. You don’t know when the coach is going to put you in,'" Kone said. “So I was like, ‘You know what, every time he puts me in I was like kind of hesitant to take shots.' But I was like, 'Listen, I’m a senior, how many games [do I have] left, 18, 17? I’m done, just take the shot. If you make it, you make it. If you don’t, you don’t.”
Another unsung hero for Rutgers was junior guard Bishop Daniels. After scoring a team-high 12 points in 15 minutes off the bench in a road loss to Nebraska on Thursday, Jordan gave Daniels the start hoping to build on his good form.
The start was Daniels’ first since Nov. 28 against Vanderbilt when he left the game after two minutes to a left ankle injury.
Although the junior college transfer watched from the sidelines during the final 10 minutes, Daniels managed nine points on 4-of-7 shooting in 27 minutes of play.
Having scored eight or more points in Rutgers’ first four conference games, Mack said Daniels is starting to find his form.
“[Bishop] came out with a lot of energy, he got us some quick buckets in the first half that we really needed and that was great for us,” Mack said. “Bishop knows his role and he plays it really well.”
While Rutgers’ offense may have rid itself of its offensive rut, scoring over 60 points for the first time since before Christmas, its defense put in another strong showing.
The Knights held the high-powered Badgers to 62 points — tied for the second lowest amount of points they’ve scored all season.
Though Kaminsky absence, along with Traevon Jackson’s injury midway through the second half, certainly helped, Wisconsin’s Dekker and guard Josh Gasser were held to 0-for-9 shootin from beyond the arc.
The Badgers were 42.9 percent from the field in the game but shot 37.5 percent in the second half during Rutgers’ dramatic comeback.
Despite Wisconsin’s collapse late in the game, Badgers head coach Bo Ryan felt Rutgers’ defense had little to do with it.
“We had a lot of wide open shots. … I’d love to have those shots again,” Ryan said. “I thought we had more wide open shots in this game then we had in any other Big Ten game.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.