Rutgers shows energy, effort in defeat on Senior Night
In what was the final home game for two of the most decorated players in Rutgers men’s basketball history, seniors Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack, an already special night had the chance to be something more with a No. 10 team in Maryland coming into Piscataway.
After all, the last time a top-10, nationally ranked team played in the Louis Brown Athletic Center, it was the Scarlet Knights who came out on top for the biggest upset in program history.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, there was no spectacular finish, no delayed court storming and no signature win to cap off the seniors’ final home game.
What the night did show, however, was light at the end of the tunnel.
For a team used to relying on Mack and Jack for points production, it was the Knights’ role players that shouldered the load.
Leading the way was junior center Greg Lewis, who scored a career-high 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field.
Of those points, several came at timely junctures throughout the game, keeping Rutgers firmly in contention until the closing minute.
Lewis also displayed his ability to knock shots down from midrange, sinking several baseline jump shots.
“He does it in practice, he does a lot of great things for us defensively, but he’s not necessarily a post up, power guy in the paint,” said head coach Eddie Jordan about Lewis postgame. “He will get some rebounds, but I think his niche is making that perimeter shot like he did tonight. Took him all year just to get loose I guess, but he just has to feel confident and be a little bit loose with it.”
The Knights also got valuable minutes from junior guard Bishop Daniels and freshman guard Mike Williams off the bench, both providing six points in the first half.
Mack and Jack combined for just three total first half points, and yet Rutgers trailed by single-digits at the break thanks to its role players.
With many voicing concern over the future of the program after its star senior duo's departure, tonight’s performance at least provides a glimmer of hope.
“I’m just a little bit (more confident). I just put in the time, the extra time in the gym. It just felt easy tonight.” Lewis said. “… It definitely builds on my confidence, but we as a team, we’re going to get in the gym and continue to better ourselves as a team.”
Another promising sign from the Knights despite their now 13th straight defeat –– the second-worst losing streak in program history — was their effort and energy from start to finish.
Rutgers had dropped five-straight at home entering tonight, with four of the last five defeats coming by an average margin of 19.8 points.
But whether it was diving for loose balls or getting back in transition, the Knights matched Maryland’s energy frame for frame, despite the Terrapins having seemingly more crowd support than the home team.
That effort was shown most on the boards, with Rutgers outrebounding Maryland, 42-38. That included 20 offensive rebounds for 21 second-chance points against the Big Ten’s second best defensive rebounding team.
Though Jack’s career-high 16 rebounds had something to do with the advantage on the glass, the effort was something Jordan made sure to praise from the moment he started talking postgame.
“We had to play perfect basketball and we didn’t play perfect basketball (to win), Jordan said. “But we gave great effort … and our guys went to the boards. We just fought tooth and nail.”
While Jack and Mack garnered most of the attention, it was also Malick Kone’s final game on the RAC hardwood.
The senior guard played an instrumental role with seven points off the bench during Rutgers’ historic win over Wisconsin Jan. 11 and started both halves for the Knights.
He shot just 1-of-4 from the field, but did knock down a three-point shot early in the second half, just his third three-point field goal this season.
Though Kone admitted he would have liked to play more after sinking that shot, he said his time at Rutgers has been special.
“I have to control my emotions,” Kone said. “I’m happy and I am blessed to be here and end this way because I know there are a lot of kids who wish they could be in my spot right now ... I appreciate that.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.