Last night Rutgers learned that you can’t fall asleep in the Big East. Sleep-walking through the first 27:52 of the game, the Scarlet Knights fell behind 57-36 against visiting No. 18 Marquette and by the time they woke up, even a frantic save-face run was not enough to give them their first conference win of the season as Marquette escaped 81-76.
The Knights whittled the lead down to 64-53, and then went on a 18-9 run keyed by Mike Rosario to make the laugher into a serious game. Rosario scored 10 of his team-high 22 points during the stretch and his floater in the lane, falling down, brought Rutgers within two, 73-71, with 37 seconds remaining. But that’s as close as they would come.
“It’s just very difficult to dig yourself a hole like that. It takes so much energy and there’s no margin for error,” said Hill of the failed comeback. “I’m very, very proud of the kids and the way they battled and the way they kept coming and the things that they did. But it’s very difficult to put yourself in a 21-point hole and think you’re going to come back and ultimately overtake a really good team to win the game.”
Rosario was a microcosm of his team. He started out cold, extending his poor shooting from the Connecticut game, hitting just three of his first 14 shots. But when Rutgers started making its run, Rosario was right in the middle of it. Scoring in a variety of ways: in transition, from beyond the arc, and filling the lane; he scored all but two of his 16 second-half points in the last seven minutes, putting the team on his back, and finishing 9-24 from the field.
But his efforts turned into overzealousness down the stretch. After Lazar Haywood hit two free throws to double the lead for Marquette, the freshman got trigger happy. Looking for a quick shot on the other end Rosario let go of a three-point shot from about 30 feet out, his foot still on the paint of the block ‘R’ that didn’t fall and helped Eagles walk out of the RAC winners, barely.
"I thought that I had a lot of time but as you can see my teammates live and die with the shots that I take,” said Rosario about the long three-pointer. “Those are shots I work on everyday in practice. If I have an opportunity to shoot it and coach wants me to, so I pulled it and it didn't go."
As good as Rosario was down the stretch, Marquette relied on its quartet of stars to win the game for them. Wesley Matthews was the go-to-guy versus Rutgers, putting up a game-high 23 points, hitting all 10 of his shots. He had plenty of help though. Jerel McNeal had 16 points, Dominic James added 15, and Haywood chipped in 10 points and five rebounds. The foursome combined for all but four of the Eagles’ 44 second-half points.
Buzz Williams’ squad was able to turn a 39-28 halftime lead into a 21-point lead by getting out and running. Marquette scored nine points in transition, seven of them by James. For the game, they outscored Rutgers 21-9 on the break.
James’ dunk to cap the lead seemed to be the breaking point for Rutgers. They went on a 10-0 run to bring the score to 57-46 with nine minutes remaining. After Marquette responded, trying to put the game away, the Knights showed they wouldn’t lay down.
JR Inman scored all nine of his points in the second half, and grabbed six of his eight rebounds, to provide a spark off the bench for RU. Corey Chandler added 19 points and was the lone hot hand for Rutgers in the first half.
Both contributed heavily to the Knights’ comeback, with Rutgers’ big run coming after Chandler subbed back into the game. But it was not to be for RU, as Marquette iced clutch free throws down the stretch to preserve their win.
“They made a great run, we had a hard time controlling it. .. It was just a fight the rest of the way,” said Williams. “They were an aggressor, we struggled to calm them down, but we were fortunate to pull it out.”