Just like your average college students, the Rutgers underclassmen waited until the last minute.
The Scarlet Knights took to the RAC floor for the final time this season, and the underclassmen stood tallest during Tuesday’s farewell.
“Of course it’s a good sign,” said junior guard Bishop Daniels. “We’re getting better day-in and day-out. We just need more from everybody – not just the seniors. They’ve been carrying us all season, so it’s good to see everybody able to pitch in.”
Daniels and freshman Mike Williams – the projected starters at guard next season – gave an improved look defensively. Rutgers held the 10th ranked Terrapins to 60 points and star guard Melo Trimble to 10 points on a frustrating 3-of-13 shooting.
Junior Greg Lewis stood out as an impact player for the first time in his career.
Lewis scored a career-high 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and shot 60 percent from the floor. Free throws remain a work in progress.
“I just wanted to do anything,” Lewis said. “In the game, I was just trying to give effort. I wanted to win bad for them. … I knew that [my jumper] was going to be open. I knew that their bigs like to sag in and defend the paint. That mid-range is kind of my sweet spot. I knew it was going to be open.”
As the last standing member of the heralded 2011 recruiting class, Lewis’ leadership becomes crucial in year three under Jordan.
“He does a lot of great things for us defensively,” Jordan said. “But he’s not necessarily a post-up, power guy in the paint, though he will get some rebounds. But I think his niche is to make that perimeter shot like he did tonight. He has one more year to pretty much get loose; he just has to feel confident.”
Mack and Jack did not fade silently – Mack hit the biggest shot of the night on a 25-footer and Jack grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds. Both showings, however, are irrelevant in terms of what could be a make or break 2015-16 season in Piscataway.
The senior captain pair represents 43 percent of Rutgers’ offense, 50 percent of long-range shooting and a combined 66 minutes per game.
That is not an easy replacement.
“It’s emotional for them,” Jordan said. “They showed their loyalty by staying here with all of the things that went on. We relied on them a whole lot. They were good people and it’s just too bad I didn’t do a better job with both of them to get them to play at the highest level I thought they could play at.”
If Maryland becomes a building block, then Rutgers is not dead in the water without Mack and Jack next season.
Perhaps Jordan should kick his guys out of practice more often.
“From a talent level we need to get better," Jordan said. "I can't ... I would hope so. I would think that with the people we've got coming in, we've got good solid recruits coming in, that remains to be seen. We're trying."