Rutgers role players struggle to aid Jack, Mack
The frustration on Kadeem Jack’s face said it all.
After his two-point attempt from the high post clanked off the back iron with 2:13 left in regulation Tuesday night at the State Farm Center, the senior forward couldn’t do anything but stroll back on defense.
This wasn’t a winnable battle. This was yet another case of Jack and senior guard Myles Mack single-handedly carrying the load, while the majority of the Rutgers men’s basketball team continued to flop offensively.
Just 37 seconds prior to the missed two-pointer, Jack drained a trey to cut Illinois’ lead to 62-54. It was only the second time the Scarlet Knights clawed within single digits the entire second half, and that was as close as they would come after the Illini closed the first half on a 16-4 run to take a 35-24 lead into halftime.
Jack provided 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field. Mack added 16 points and four assists.
The rest of Rutgers?
The other three starters scored a combined 17 points on 27.7 percent shooting from the field, and the bench contributed four total points after producing nothing Saturday at Indiana.
“We need to find a third scorer,” head Eddie Jordan told reporters postgame Tuesday. “It could be done by committee, or it could be a different guy night after night. But Kadeem and Myles need some help in the scoring department.”
That has been the pervasive problem in Big Ten play, where Rutgers is averaging a conference-worst 57.1 points per game.
As a whole, the Knights rank 12th in the league with 40 percent field goal shooting. They’re even worse from deep, sitting 13th with 29.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Jordan simply hasn’t received any kind of consistent support system for Mack and Jack.
In all of Rutgers’ 11 conference games at least one of the two seniors has scored double figures. Both have done so in six of those contests, averaging a combined 29 points per game.
Every other Knight on the roster has scored at least 10 points six times total during that stretch.
The most frequent third scorer has been Bishop Daniels, but the athletic 6-foot-3 junior guard has failed to tap into his vast potential on a consistent basis.
Daniels has reached double figures in just three Big Ten games, starting every contest since Jan. 11’s monumental upset over then-No. 4 Wisconsin.
His ball security as a frenetic dribbler has also been a concern, as Daniels has 19 more turnovers (46) than assists (27) this season. The absence of freshman guard Mike Williams over the last three games with an ankle injury hasn’t helped ease pressure on Daniels, either.
But an arguably bigger disappointment has hurt Rutgers’ cause even more.
Sophomore wing Junior Etou, whom Jordan, Jack and Mack all raved about before the season as a sleeper player ready to take the next step, is shooting an abysmal 30.7 percent from the field in conference play.
The 6-foot-7, 230-pounder has converted more than two shots from the field in only two games during that span, often settling for fadeaway baseline jumpers and neglecting to attack the rim.
As a result, Saturday was his only double-figure scoring game since Dec. 20 against St. Francis.
Etou does rank eighth in the Big Ten with a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game — 5.2 on the offensive end — but Rutgers is likely to have a difficult time ending its season-worst seven-game losing skid until the sophomore upticks his 7.5 points per contest this season.
A trickle-down effect is making it even more difficult for the Knights to dig themselves out of their rut.
Mack, who played the entire game against Illinois, has logged 408 total minutes in conference play — 38 more than the next closest Big Ten player.
He insists he isn’t fatigued, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder has scored single figures twice over the last four games after tallying at least 10 points in six of Rutgers’ first seven Big Ten games.
Then again, Mack scored a combined 40 points against Illinois and Indiana, and he still rates fourth in the league in free-throw percentage (89.7 percent) and seventh in three-pointers (2.2 per game).
But as the Knights continue to illustrate as clear as daylight, it doesn’t matter until someone else steps up.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @gregp_j and @TargumSports on Twitter.