PISCATAWAY, N.J. – A few days after squandering a 15-point, second-half lead, Rutgers found out what it’s like to steal one after being down 15.
Kadeem Jack hit an off-balance, go-ahead shot in the lane with 11.1 seconds to play and Rutgers rallied from a 15-point, second-half deficit to defeat South Florida 74-73 on Saturday.
The largest comeback of the season for the Scarlet Knights (11-18, 5-11 American Athletic Conference) came just three days after they blew a big lead at Central Florida.
“He took it upon himself. He was accountable,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said of the game-winning shot. “One of the big plays at UCF was the drive dunk, and Kadeem probably should have been there for a shot block or taken a charge, so again, there’s a lot of things you learn from losing and we won (today) because for three and a half minutes we didn’t play tough enough at UCF.”
Jack gave credit to J.J. Moore for giving him the ball for the big shot in a game where both players had a team-high 20 points.
“I just wanted to have a large effect on the game and I think tonight I was a big part,” Jack said, after Rutgers snapped a four-game losing streak and sent South Florida (12-17, 3-13) to its season-high sixth straight loss.
The Bulls came close to spoiling Rutgers’ comeback.
Victor Rudd, who had a game-high 26 points, drove across the lane and saw his layup attempt with about 2 seconds left fall off the rim. A rebound tip by John Egbunu just missed.
“I thought it was going in,” said Rudd, who walked off the court with his hands cradled above his head in frustration. “It looked like it was going to fall. We got a good tip after that and just missed. We had them up 15 and made some mistakes and missed some shots.”
Egbunu finished with 12 points and Zach LeDay had 10.
Neither team led by more than four points in the final 12-plus minutes and there were eight lead changes in the last 5:38.
Rudd gave the Bulls their last lead with a step-back jumper in the lane with 32.8 seconds to play.
After a timeout to set up a play, Rutgers worked the ball inside and Jack muscled his way up in the lane and hit his shot from roughly 10 feet.
South Florida rushed the ball upcourt and tried to hit Egbunu with an alley-oop inside. But the play was broken up and the Bulls retained possession with 4.9 seconds to go when Malick Kone stepped on the baseline after collecting the loose ball.
Rudd then drove for the game winner and missed.
“I thought that we got everything we wanted,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “We got our best player with the ball (and) we got him going to the basket a few feet from the rim. It rimmed around and it rimmed around and we got the put back, which is something that happens a lot, where the second shot is what gets you. John had it about a foot away and he felt as though his arm was held on that play as well, but we came up short.”
South Florida led by a season-high 10 points at the half and built its lead to 50-35 on a dunk by Chris Perry off a feed by Rudd.
Jordan called timeout and Rutgers, which heard a spattering of boos from the crowd, responded.
Myles Mack hit a 3-pointer to ignite an 11-point run and the Scarlet Knights eventually tied game at 55 on a 3-pointer by Jack and even led 61-57 after Craig Brown hit two free throws with 8:22 left.
Rudd got South Florida within a point with a 3-pointer and the lead swayed back and forth over the final minutes.