Crushing loss in past as St. Johns visits RAC
Make no mistake, the last one hurt.
Sure, the Rutgers women's basketball team lost before this season, but never in the fashion it did Sunday against Syracuse.
A 31-point blowout loss at home to an unranked team. A sloppy game from start to finish. A performance that had both senior Brittany Ray and sophomore Khadijah Rushdan scratching their heads, wondering where the effort went.
"It's not like we haven't been down by 20 points before and come back to make it a game, or win it," Rushdan said. "It was disappointing for everyone to hang their heads and not give effort because that is something you can control. You can have a night where you are not hitting shots, but you can control effort."
The Scarlet Knights experienced their fair share of heartbreaks this season, including a narrow defeat at the hands of then-No. 16 Georgia and a loss on a last second three by then-No. 13 Texas — both of those games were in the span of six days. And while it's true that the Knights were on the wrong side of a 40-point blowout against Connecticut, the No. 1 Huskies are undisputedly better than every other team in the sport, bar none.
But this one was different.
Toward the end, there were no traces of the Knights' usual fire. Down by double digits in the final minutes, as they were most of the game, it appeared as if the fight simply left them.
Some stared at the floor. Others stared at the scoreboard, maybe disbelieving the numbers they saw — maybe hoping that the clock would finally reach zero.
It was a performance that left head coach C. Vivian Stringer, usually verbose, nearly speechless.
"To have that kind of a game — and it's not to slight Syracuse, by any stretch of the imagination — you don't play like that," Stringer said. "There were no answers. It is amazing because you can do anything if you give great effort."
Stringer called the Knights' (15-12, 7-6) loss to Syracuse a must-win game, which only makes tonight's game against No. 18 St. John's (21-5, 9-4) all the more critical. The Red Storm have only one fluke loss on their résumé — a 10-point defeat at the hands of Cincinnati on the road — and will certainly not be a pushover by any stretch of the imagination, especially for a team that continues to try and impress the NCAA selection committee.
While forward Da'Shena Stevens and guard Shenneika Smith pace St. John's in scoring, the Red Storm does not need to run their offense directly through either — six other players average around seven points per game this season. That makes the Johnnies, who shoot 36 percent from three-point range as a team, a formidable scoring machine.
For comparison's sake, the Orange shoot 34 percent from downtown this season — and dropped 11 three-point baskets on RU last game.
The question remains, was last game an aberration? The Knights hope so, because with three games to play the wins need to come starting tonight.
A team can win by playing strong defense. It can win by burying their opponent in points.
But it cannot win without heart.
The Knights lost their heart last game against Syracuse. Tonight, they see if they can find it again.
"When you've got people that are giving up, you can't do anything," Rushdan said. "Like Coach Stringer said, when you've got people who are willing to fight and willing to give effort, you can overcome anything."