Mack, off bench, ignites Rutgers at MSG

NEW YORK -- Myles Mack was the crown jewel of coach Mike Rice's first recruiting class at Rutgers -- a top-100 high school senior who starred for Bob Hurley at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City and was expected to step right into Rice's starting lineup as a freshman.

And step right in he did, starting the Scarlet Knights' first 10 games of this season. But in his first game off the bench, on Saturday at Madison Square Garden against Stony Brook, Mack scored a season-high 22 points in a 67-58 victory, part of the annual MSG Holiday Festival.

"That’s what I thought I had when I recruited him," said Rice after the game.

Mack was averaging 8.8 points and 2.2 assists per game prior to Saturday, but he was coming off a poor performance on Monday in an 81-66 win over Monmouth, when he scored just five points and shot 1-for-11 from the field with four turnovers. That's what prompted Rice to make the move, which he informed Mack of in practice prior to the Stony Brook game.

"It was his turn," Rice said. "With freshmen, I want to see how they respond and it was his turn. He responded pretty well."

He certainly did. Mack's first bucket, a 3-pointer soon after he entered the game, gave Rutgers an early 12-8 lead. On the day, Mack made seven of his eight field goal attempts, all six of his free throws, and turned the ball over just twice in 28 minutes.

"It was easier. I saw from the bench what was going on, and saw what I could fix, and when I came in I fixed it," said Mack. "We just needed to get out in transition more often -- that’s how we play. [And] run some of the [offensive] sets all the way through."

On defense, Rutgers held a Stony Brook team expected to contend for the America East title to a woeful 26.7 shooting percentage from the field. Rice was pleased with that, but not with his team's performance on the backboards.

"We certainly were in a giving mood," Rice said, "giving up 21 offensive rebounds in the holiday spirit."

Rutgers, 6-5, has now won two games in a row, with two more nonconference games before commencing Big East play at South Florida on New Year's Day.

Next up? NJIT, at home on Thursday. And Rice said Mack will come off the bench again.

The star freshman admitted that not starting against Stony Brook left a bit of an ego bruise, but said he won't mind doing it again.

"I’ll be OK with it," Mack said. "It’s not really a big deal to me, because I’m going to play the same amount of minutes I normally play."

And if they are as productive as Mack's 28 minutes on Saturday, Rutgers will be in very good shape.