Don’t look now, but Rutgers basketball has momentum. On its first winning streak of the season, the Scarlet Knights grabbed their first conference victory in a New Year’s Day 71-66 victory over Temple.
Rutgers showed emotion and put up the best defensive effort under coach Eddie Jordan in the process. Freshman Junior Etou made the game-winning play offensively, but holding Temple to 33 percent from the floor is what made Rutgers 1-0 in the American Athletic Conference.
“We made a ton of clutch plays,” Jordan said. “It was clutch basketball. Not just a shot, not just a free throw, but [it was] a stop, a rebound, play making.”
The forwards were the stars for Rutgers against the Owls, with strong performances for all three starters. Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge rebounded, and shot well in the post.
But it was Etou that made the play of the day in his second start at the college level. Etou, off the dish from guard Myles Mack, flipped in an old-school and-one for the game winner. Etou’s foul shot put Rutgers up two, and a pair of free throws by J.J. Moore following a defensive stand won it at the RAC.
“He didn’t look like a freshman there,” Moore said. “He rolls up and took the contact and got the and-one. Coming to the free throw line, he knocked the free throw down too.”
Etou started his second career game with Rutgers after sitting the first six games via NCAA suspension. He declined a request to speak to the media after the game.
Etou’s teammates spoke highly of his play in his stead.
“He’s come a long way,” Moore said. “He’s playing real good. He’s rebounding. He’s blocking shots. He’s defending for us. He’s a big factor that we missed the first few games. It’s good for us, in a way, because now we have somebody that can do a little bit of everything.”
The Scarlet Knights (7-7) need all of the momentum they can build, and then some, with No. 14 Louisville (11-2) coming to the RAC Saturday. The Cardinals are without impact forward Chane Behanen, but represent the toughest foe so far in the Jordan era.
“In the NBA, when the playoffs start, the team has a whole different approach,” Jordan said. “They move their feet quicker. Technique is better, sort of like tonight. It was reminiscent of that sort of next-level basketball.”