PISCATAWAY — Malick Kone picked the right game to have a career night.
The sophomore guard scored a career-high 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting to help Rutgers take an 81-79 victory and survive Boston University’s comeback Tuesday night.
“Somebody had (to) step up, so I stepped up to take over and try to help the team,” said Kone, who had a total of eight points in the first three games. “I had to do it to help us win. If you don’t do it in a game, why practice it?”
Eli Carter scored 20 for Rutgers (3-1), which made four free throws in the final 6.3 seconds to hold off the Terriers. Myles Mack added 15 for the Scarlet Knights, who led the entire way but let an 18-point first-half lead dwindle to one when D.J. Irving hit a 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds left.
Irving had 24 for Boston, which has started 0-4 for the second straight year. Maurice Watson Jr. had 16, John Papale 12 and Dom Morris 10.
Boston stayed in it by shooting 12 for 29 on 3-pointers. After Irving pulled the Terriers within 77-76, Rutgers got the ball into the forecourt with 6.3 seconds left before Zach Chionuma was called for a fragrant foul on Jerome Seagears.
Seagears made both foul shots and, after Rutgers inbounded, Carter was fouled and hit both with 5.7 seconds left to seal the Knights’ third straight victory.
With the lead cut to 59-57, Kone scored five straight for Rutgers to open a 64-59 advantage. With the score 71-66, he buried a baseline jumper.
“I like to have the ball in my hands,” said Kone, whose previous career-high was eight last year. “I always think every night it’s going to be a good night. Today was my night, and the other guys try to play for me. Tomorrow night it could be Myles, and we’ll try to play for him.”
Forward Wally Judge, who had eight points and seven rebounds, was not surprised at Kone’s performance.
“He does that every day at practice,” Judge said. “His mid-range game is amazing. Last year it was a confidence thing, but he’s been playing like that since day one this year.”
The Knights were playing on a night when it was announced they would be leaving the Big East for the Big 10. Coach Mike Rice felt that made the approach to the game somewhat different.
“It was an interesting day to happen on a game day,” Rice said. “People are asking everyone about going to the Big 10 instead of the game tonight.
“It’s tough to focus, but you got to try. It’s a great day, and somehow you have to stay focused on winning. I didn’t like everything that happened tonight, but we found a way.”
Rutgers opened leads of 32-14 and 34-16 with under six minutes left in the first half before Boston rallied to get back in it. Irving sparked an 18-8 run with a 3-pointer and closed with another 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 42-34 at half.
The Terriers gradually chipped away after intermission and got within three with less than three minutes left. Each time, however, Rutgers had an answer.
“We need to learn how to play for 40 minutes, and we’re struggling with that,” Terriers’ coach Joe Jones said. “It’s four games now. We’ve got to start making our way and getting better at that. When we don’t play hard, we have a hard time.”
Kadeem Jack’s eight rebounds led the Knights, who held a 39-30 advantage on the boards and shot 48.3 percent (28 of 58).
“It means a lot,” Rice said of the way Rutgers held on. “They could have folded, but some guys stepped up in the huddle, some guys stepped up on defense.”