Last year, Kadeem Jack sat out the game against Fairleigh Dickinson, and Rutgers lost by a point. On Sunday night, Rutgers looked nervous and disorganized without Jack.
Tonight, it was a different story.
The Scarlet Knights, behind Bishop Daniels played probably their best defensive half of the Eddie Jordan era. In the first half, Rutgers disrupted the Knights' offense, and kept FDU off the boards. Meanwhile, Rutgers played smart and fast, pushing the tempo and feeding the open player. Daniels rebounded from his 1-8, finishing with 18 points. At the half, Rutgers led 37-18--holding Fairleigh to under 20 percent shooting.
However, in the second half, FDU came out strong. They blitzed the Scarlet Knights with an 8-0 run, and kept the pressure on. Mustafa Jones scored 15 points, and at one point with about 4 minutes left, Fairleigh cut the deficit down to just seven points and then forced Rutgers into a bad possession. However, that possession was bailed out when Daniels fed Myles Mack with one second left on the shot clock. As the time expired, Mack managed to hit a three, pushing the lead back to ten: 50-40. FDU couldn't muster much more of a comeback after that.
Junior Etou also rebounded from a poor game, recording his first double-double of the season. Etou was a monster on the boards, and ended up with 14 rebounds to go with 11 points. He also nearly got into a scrum on the court after Greg Lewis and an FDU player got into a shoving match. The FDU player needed to be pulled away from Etou. He also was able to draw a technical foul on a Knight. Etou was everywhere, showing a chip on his shoulder.
DJ Foreman started the game instead of Kerwin Okoro. Foreman is still learning, but did manage to finish with 7 points and 4 boards. Too often Foreman wants to take the ball up the court himself, but as a freshmen it's a process. He has show flashes of brilliance too, including a left reverse lay-up off a beautiful feed from Mack.
And, then there's Myles Mack, the steady senior. Mack filled the stat sheet with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He also hit some clutch free throws when needed.
This, however, wasn't a perfect--or even pretty--game by Rutgers. There are still kinks to work out as they threw the ball away 18 times, often befuddled in the second half by FDU's zone. It's a team that is still missing its best player. This win must help with confidence though. It has to show the team they can win and put up a solid effort without their senior leader. They can win games.
Now the key is to get that leader back and healthy. Because Rutgers needs Kadeem Jack going forward.
And if the team can put forth an effort like today with Jack in the line-up, they could be fun to watch.