Rutgers shot nearly 60% from the field in the first half, building a cushion which would help the Scarlet Knights fend off the Manhattan Jaspers 63-55 Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
An efficient outburst from the Scarlet Knights allowed them to take a 10 point lead into the break. As a team, they shot 59.1% from the floor in the first frame, but more importantly held the Jaspers’ offense in check for the first 20 minutes.
“We knew they would trap us and take Miles [Mack] away,” head coach Eddie Jordan said. “They do a lot of pressure on the floor, changing up their zones and their defenses. We didn’t handle it as well as I thought we could.”
The Jaspers were held to just 0.87 points per possession for the game, including a 1-14 mark from behind the arc. Sharpshooter Shane Richards was far from his usual self, coming up empty on five 3-point attempts and held scoreless for the game. Following the final buzzer, head coach Steve Masiello revealed Richards had sustained an injury in the team’s last contest.
“Shane fractured his hand in the Marist game on Sunday,” Masiello said. “He had tape on it, but at the end of the day they did a great job on him and didn’t give him many open looks.”
Manhattan, which trailed by as much as 13 in the second half, eventually found their groove and whittled the lead down to just two in the final minutes. The Jaspers forced 13 Scarlet Knights turnovers in the second half to help them get back in the game.
However, a 7-0 Rutgers response saved the Scarlet Knights from danger. Rutgers sealed the deal at the free throw line down the stretch, going 23-25 from the charity stripe on the afternoon.
“We were resilient enough to do the things we had to do to keep the lead and win the game down the stretch,” Jordan said. “I like where our defense is going to. We’ve shown to be resilient, disciplined, and hard-working enough to put our defense up. I just like our defensive presence.”
Kadeem Jack dominated the floor for the Scarlet Knights. The junior forward poured in a season high 24 points to lead all scorers and fell just one rebound short of a double-double. Fellow forward Junior Etou followed up with 16 points while grabbing 8 rebounds. Both forwards were perfect from the free throw line.
“He has to stay alert; he’s got all the skills to be very good.” Jordan said of Jack. “We knew there were going to be some holes in the one and he found them. He was alert enough, he was disciplined enough to find the holes, to find the action on the break and against their zone defense.”
Emmy Andujar found success in the paint late in the game to lead Manhattan with 21 points and added nine rebounds. Front court mate Ashton Pankey joined him in double figured with 10 points and six rebounds.
“We’ve got to win games,” Masiello added. “That’s the business we’re in. There’s no excuses. Come February and March we will.”
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.