PISCATAWAY — J.J. Moore went from his lowest scoring output of the season against Houston to the highest point production of his career against the Cougars, and all it took was some comfort.
Moore scored a career-high 27 points to lead the Scarlett Knights to a 93-70 victory over Houston Saturday night. The senior swingman had just five points in the Knights’ 77-55 loss to the Cougars on Jan. 19.
“I felt like it was a revenge thing, we went to their place and they spanked us,” said Moore, who had 17 first-half points. “I just wanted to come out there with a lot of energy and try to boost my team up as much as I could.”
Moore is in his only year with Rutgers after transferring from Pittsburgh. He was still learning to play some guard in the Jan. 19 game at Houston. In Saturday’s rematch he got to play more small forward, with guards Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears on the floor with him at the same time.
“It looks like he just has a comfort zone,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. “It’s a new team and I just saw him being comfortable out there. It takes time for a guy playing one year with a new team with new players to have a comfort level.
“I think with Jerome and Myles at guard, it gave him sort of a freedom to take his forward position and run with it and that’s what he did. He did a lot of good things . . . his athleticism showed out tonight.”
Moore agreed he’s found his comfort zone, saying “I’ve got a better feel playing guard now and getting used to it. Down there it wasn’t clicking and right now it’s clicking.”
Mack added 25 points and six assists for the Scarlet Knights (9-13, 3-6 American Athletic Conference), who snapped a four-game losing streak, while Kadeem Jack added 16 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots, and Seagears had 11 points.
TaShawn Thomas had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Cougars (11-11, 3-6), who have lost four straight since defeating Rutgers on Jan. 19. Brandon Morris added 13 points, while Danuel House and L.R. Rose had 11 apiece.
The 163 combined points were the most scored in an AAC game. It was Rutgers’ largest scoring output in a conference game since a 95-82 in a win over Notre Dame on March 1, 2003, when both teams were in the Big East.
“I thought we defended better and obviously shot the ball better at home against them,” Houston coach James Dickey said. “I thought we were able defend their shooters last time, but today they had four players in double figures. Moore had a really big game tonight.”
Houston shot 6 of 8 to start the second half and cut a 46-31 deficit to 53-44. Mack responded with a 3-pointer to begin an 11-1 run that put the Scarlet Knights up 64-45 with 11:36 remaining.
The Cougars got no closer than 14 from that point, and Rutgers opened its largest lead at 86-61 with 4:38 remaining.
Houston never led and the game’s only tie was 2-2, as the Scarlet Knights played a complete game for one of the few times this season.
“I think this would be in the top five (complete games) that we played this year, if not the best” Mack said. “This is probably the number-one game we’ve had sharing the ball and playing as a team.”
Moore shot 11 for 17 and had five rebounds, helping Rutgers shoot 52.5 percent (31 of 59). Mack was 6 for 11 and hit 10 of 11 free throws. The Knights shot 60 percent (15 of 25) in the second half and made 13 of their first 20.
Houston committed 14 turnovers and made just 12 of 27 free-throw attempts.
Rutgers scored eight straight to close the first half and take a 46-31 advantage. The Cougars had cut a 29-16 deficit to 38-31and had a chance to get closer before Moore came up with a steal and breakaway dunk to ignite the crowd and start the 8-0 run.