PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- The Eddie Jordan era is underway at scandal-marred Rutgers and it's going to be fun for the players under their focused new coach.
Kadeem Jack had a career-high 30 points and 12 rebounds, and Jordan made people smile in his first game back at Rutgers with a 92-84 victory over Florida A&M on Friday night.
The low-key Jordan, who led Rutgers to its only Final Four appearance in 1976 and later coached three NBA teams, said there was nothing particularly emotional about winning his first game as the successor to Mike Rice.
"I just wanted to get the win," Jordan said. "I would have been emotional if I didn't get the win. I was paddling like heck underneath the water, trying to get the win."
Funny thing was, Jordan didn't show any nerves. He was calm throughout the game as the Scarlet Knights started putting a national basketball scandal to bed.
Jordan's job is tough. He was brought back to his alma mater to take over a program that became an embarrassment to the school after a videotape was televised in March showing Rice throwing basketballs at players during practice and belittling them with anti-gay slurs.
Rice was fired by the university president in early April, and days later athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned under pressure for his initial handling of the issue in late 2012.
Jordan was hired three weeks later and tasked with the job of keeping together a team facing mass defections. His first game was a good start.
"I wanted us to play well and most time you want your team to play well and whatever happens, happens," Jordan said. "Heck, I wanted the win tonight and there was no way I could walk out of here without one."
Rutgers has installed a player-friendly offense that gives the Scarlet Knights much more freedom than Rice allowed, and the players had fun.
The 92 points were the most by Rutgers in a head coaching debut. The previous high was 82 in Bob Wenzel's first season in 1988. That was an 82-65 win over Rider on Nov. 25. Jordan was an assistant on Wenzel's staff.
"After last season I was ready for this season to start up," said Jack, who hit 12 of 18 shots from the field. "If you ask anyone, I don't think it was that big of a deal. Eddie got us ready for today's game and everything was fine."
Jordan's calm demeanor got many players to stay at the state university of New Jersey, and they came through for their coach in the season opener.
"This is a new chapter, a new book, so we are trying not to look back," said Rutgers guard Myles Mack, who added 19 points. "Today was the start of a new chapter and we're just trying to move forward."
J.J. Moore, a senior transfer from Pittsburgh, added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Scarlet Knights, who led by five at halftime and broke it open in the final 20 minutes.
Muhammad Abdul-Aleem had 16 points to lead Florida A&M. Jomari Bradshaw added 12 for the Rattlers of the MEAC.
The season opener for both schools wasn't well attended at the Rutgers Athletic Center, with maybe a little more than half the seats in the 8,000-seat arena occupied.
However, the crowd was on its feet quickly after the public address announcer asked fans to welcome back "Fast Eddie" Jordan.
The new coach barely acknowledged the applause and went straight to work talking to his team before the opening tip, taking out his dry erase board to draw up something for his players. His approach never seemed to change, even after a clutch basket in the first half. Instead of pumping a fist, he got to his feet and put two fingers in the air, calling a defense.
"I didn't get a sense of the fans tonight. I was into our team, into our foxhole," Jordan said. "Our coach and the players, we were locked in and I don't think I looked up once in the stands and tried to feel what they were feeling. I didn't have any of that. I was just locked in and wanted us to do the things we had to do to win the game."
His attire was even low key, a gray sweater and tie and dress pants.
"He shows emotion," Mack said of Jordan. "But I like the way he coaches. He gives us the freedom, but we know when that freedom is up and to run our stuff."
It was totally different from Rice, who tended to be highly emotional on the bench, waving his arms, gesturing at players and yelling at officials and anybody within earshot. Reporters in the press box used to guess about how long it would take Rice to rip off his suit jacket and throw it.
It rarely was more than a couple of minutes.
Jordan seemingly never changed his emotions, even after the Rattlers cut the lead to five points at halftime. Jack said the coach was matter of fact at the break, telling everyone to stick to the game plan. It worked.
Jack had six points and Mack four in a 14-4 run to open the second half that gave Rutgers a 60-45 lead. The Scarlet Knights were never threatened again.
"We played hard, unfortunately didn't win it," Florida A&M coach Clemon Johnson said. "We made some errors, gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. I told the team they would make a run in the second half and they did. What I was proud of is when they made the run we didn't quit."
Johnson said this was a game the Rattlers were looking to win, not to get a moral victory.
"I sure he was looking for a larger margin than he had," Johnson said of Jordan's first win.
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|South Carolina State||12-4||1||19-15|
|North Carolina Central||7-9||6||13-19|
|North Carolina A&T||7-9||6||10-22|