Saturday night at the Sun Dome looked like the formula for an eighth straight road loss for Rutgers. A blown 14-point lead with frustration visibly building on the court, junior forward Kadeem Jack finally asserted himself as the “go-to guy.”
Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan called for Jack to be his go-to guy the morning before tipoff on a teleconference. Jack showed why he wears the title against South Florida.
“That’s every night,” Jordan said to reporters after the game. “He needs to carry us, especially on the road. Your go-to guys have to really do it for you on the road. Myles didn’t have it going. He struggled. Kadeem sort of picked up on that and was very aggressive.”
Jack scored a career-high 31 points. Equally impressive, the big man made all 13 of his free throw attempts.
This is what happens when Jack gets his shots. It will not lead to 30 points and perfect free-throw shooting every night, but Jack needs double-digit shots for Rutgers to play its game.
Jack took 14 shots against USF as the figurehead of the offense. In four AAC wins, Jack averaged 10 shots per game and shot 67 percent from the floor.
In seven AAC losses, Jack averaged the same amount of shots but made just 37 percent of them.
“If he has a high motor, he’s very effective for us,” Jordan said. “If he’s in-between that, if he’s below 80 percent energy level as we like to say, he’s not being as effective as he needs to be for us to win.
“He found the creases in the zone [against South Florida]. He found the driving lanes. We found him some high-low stuff. Wally was good with that. Our people were looking for Kadeem, and he was aggressive and obviously he made his free throws.”
Rutgers (10-14, 4-7) sits in sixth place in the American with the top six teams earning a bye in the upcoming conference tournament.
The Scarlet Knights have a tough schedule the rest of the way, and will need at least one upset to stay in sixth place.
“That’s big for us,” Jordan said. “Our carrot, obviously we have to have a goal and it’s sixth place. Hopefully we can achieve that goal, but it’s a journey. Possession by possession is important to us. We can’t look too far ahead. It was big for us to win on the road.”
SMU, fresh off its upset of Cincinnati, comes the RAC Thursday. Rutgers did not get a strong showing out of Jack in its last battle with the Mustangs, and needs him to be the “go-to guy” at home. Jack shot 2-for-11 in the 70-56 road loss to SMU.