The knock on Eddie Jordan's squad has been defense, but tonight that's what got them through.
In front of the loudest crow of the Jordan era, Rutgers clamped down on the Big Ten's leading scorer D. J. Newbill, holding him to 14 points, and keeping the entire Penn State team to 30 percent shooting. Even though Newbill started to get hot late, the Scarlet Knights did just enough to frustrate him, as he missed a rainbow 3 with just over ten seconds left in a move that would have tied the game.
On offense, Rutgers leaned on Kadeem Jack, who rebounded from his poor game against Northwestern to score 12 points and pull down 11 rebounds. Jack fought through multiple double teams, and got himself to the rim, making shots or getting to the foul line. Myles Mack was Jack's sidekick tonight, dropping in 10 points.
This wasn't an easy game however. The Scarlet Knights battled and hustled in the first half, building up a 30-19 lead, but the game never passed the eye test. It certainly felt like the lead should have been bigger if they had executed better. In the second half, it got even worse, as--at one point--Rutgers was shooting 8 percent. The lived at the foul line, but couldn't pull away there either, shooting 17-28 for the game.
In fact, Penn State came within 1 point, but Mike Williams hit a big 3 pointer to give the Scarlet Knights some breathing room.
This was a gritty, gutty much needed win. Rutgers got off the mat, getting its first ever Big Ten win and pushing its conference record to 1-1. Now the spectre--however slight--of 0-18 is off the table and Rutgers can start to worry about building on this. There are still 3 seniors on this team, and it's urgent to send them out the best way possible.
Rutgers beat Penn State, making up for the football sadness in the fall and also sending Penn State into an 0-2 hole.
Next up is a trip to the somewhat scuffling Nebraska on Thursday night. Can Rutgers muck the gears up there as well?
Kadeem Jack and Mack will have to lead the way and see if one win can turn into two.