Updated:PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) (AP)
Once Myles Mack cleared his head and stretched his legs, there was no stopping the Rutgers guard.
Mack scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half as Rutgers held off Central Florida 85-75 Wednesday night.
The junior also had six of his eight assists after halftime, did not commit a turnover and hit a milestone in an otherwise rocky first half when he scored his 1,000th point on two foul shots with 2:50 remaining.
At halftime, he was 1 of 7 and 0 for 3 from 3-point range. After the break he shot 6 of 10 and was 4 for 7 on 3-pointers.
"I woke myself up," Mack said. "I just knew what I needed to do for my team to win. The first half my legs were kind of feeling funny. I stretched out at halftime and it started to feel kind of better, so I got it going in the second half."
He also acknowledged that the thought of reaching 1,000 points was playing on his psyche.
"In the beginning of the game I guess I was just thinking about it so much, that's why I didn't come out too strong," Mack said. "But after that, I got it off my mind. I came out and gave it my all in the second half. I think I was just a little bit anxious in the first half."
Jerome Seagears added 18 points off the bench for the Scarlet Knights (8-9, 2-2) in the first meeting between the American Athletic Conference schools. Junior Etou had 14 points and six rebounds while Wally Judge added 10 points.
"It was a solid team effort from us," Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. "I thought our bench really contributed very well for us. We were in foul trouble and we just have to learn how to guard without fouling, how to be a step ahead of the play defensively.
"But I like our competitive edge in the paint. I would rather be over-physical than less physical. If our bench can perform like that we can survive with fouls."
Central Florida stayed in the game with its ability to get the line, as the Knights were 26 for 34 on free throws.
Isaiah Sykes had a career-high 29 points along with eight rebounds for the Knights (9-6, 1-3), who have lost two straight after winning six of seven. Eugene McCrory had 14 points and Kasey Williams added 10 points and eight rebounds.
Sykes shot 8 for 14 and was 12 of 17 from the line.
""He played well and is our team leader," Central Florida coach Donnie Jones said. "We need that kind of effort from him every night; that gives us a chance. We just have to get more out of some others; we haven't gotten too much lately."
As good as Sykes was, Mack did it all down the stretch. After UCF whittled a 45-32 deficit to 51-45, Mack was in on 25 of the final 34 points scored by Rutgers, as he had 18 points and three assists during that span.
Central Florida got within 68-65 with 6:15 remaining before Mack hit two foul shots and Seagears found Judge for a slam to up the advantage to seven.
Central Florida continued to scrap but Rutgers always had an answer. With the score 74-68, Mack hit a 3-pointer. After Williams hit a 3-pointer to pull the Knights within 79-73 with 2:56 left, Rutgers closed with a 6-0 run. It started when Mack found J.J. Moore for an open 3-pointer in the right corner. Mack, who became the 40th Rutgers player to score 1,000 points, then hit 3 of 4 from the line to end it.
"I thought we kept grinding, got some shots and had some good execution," Jones said. "Getting some buckets in transition also helped. We were able to get close, but they kept answering each time."
The Scarlet Knights shot 47 percent (31 for 66) and were 17 for 31 (54.8 percent) in the second half. Central Florida shot just 36.1 percent (22 for 61).
"Myles obviously got hot at the right time," Jordan said. "He made timely threes, got to the line, made the free throws, got some drives and dimes at the rim and some kicks for his teammates."
Despite 26.7 percent shooting (8 for 30), Central Florida stayed close in the first half and trailed 21-20 with 4:44 remaining. After a Rutgers timeout, Seagears sandwiched two 3-pointers around an Isaiah Sykes layup to start the Scarlet Knights on a 14-6 run to end the half.
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