Rushdan delivers winner to escape with victory
There is no other way to put it: The Rutgers women's basketball team got away with one last night against Princeton.
After building a 13-point lead to end the first half, the Scarlet Knights did everything to lose their home opener, but amid the fouls, turnovers and general miscues, guard Khadijah Rushdan knocked down the game winner, allowing the Knights to escape the Louis Brown Athletic Center with a 54-43 win.
"The look was to try and drive, see my options and try to drive," Rushdan said of the Knights' final possession. "The shot was what I had, so that's why I took it."
With just 12.2 seconds left on the clock following a Princeton miss by forward Niveen Rasheed, head coach C. Vivian Stringer took a timeout and gathered her troops with the game on the line.
Junior point guard Nikki Speed brought the ball up court, passing it off to Rushdan around midcourt. From there, the Wilmington, Del., native pulled up from about 15 feet out and knocked down the shot with about four seconds left, sealing the team's first victory of the season.
Rushdan finished 4-for-10 from the field and led the team with 13 points while attacking offensively and getting to the free throw line, something she failed to do in the team's first two games.
"We wanted to try to attack them inside and get them in foul trouble," Rushdan said. "Just to get free points from the free throw line — I think we went twice against Stanford — and we've been struggling that past weekend so it was definitely a concern for us."
Rutgers faced its first deficit of the second half at the 11:05 mark, leading to a battle in a game that appeared to be a blowout. The Tigers rallied behind a 14-point run starting with 15:36 on the clock to pull ahead of Stringer's squad.
Junior forward April Sykes finally laid the ball up with 11:01 on the clock to end the Knights' scoring drought.
Sykes went just 4-for-13 from the field — ending the contest with nine points — and down the stretch the Starkville, Miss., native never saw the floor for Stringer.
But it was not because the forward was struggling.
"It wasn't because [Sykes] was struggling, because for that matter Erica [Wheeler] was struggling just as bad," Stringer said. "It was, ‘Who are you going to put in between the two strugglers?' That's really what it came down to."
The Knights turned the ball over seven times in the second half, with three coming in the game's final three minutes. Sophomore Monique Oliver played much of the second half with four fouls.
To compensate for the foul trouble, Chelsey Lee carried the Knights down low, finishing with 11 points and eight boards.
And luckily for Rutgers, the Tigers missed four layups in the final five minutes, allowing Rushdan to notch the game winner.
Still, Princeton did its best down the stretch to seize a victory.
"I think it was just the fight of the kids," said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart. "We had 22 points going into halftime and that's like ridiculous for us. From the field, even on the game, we shot 23 percent from [the 3-point line] and our two starting guards were both above 40 percent last year. The kids just never stopped."
The Knights built a comfortable cushion heading into the locker room at halftime, following a 10-3 run starting at the eight-minute mark to pull away from the Tigers.
After a jumper by Wheeler, the Tigers came away empty in their next six possessions, turning the ball over three times and missing three shots. Wheeler tabbed five of the Knights' points during the run and was perfect from the field in the half, finishing with eight points and two 3-pointers.
While Stringer's squad thrived from beyond the arc in the half, getting to the line proved to be another common trend, as well.
The Knights went 5-for-5 from the charity stripe, a far cry from their past two games, when the group went 0-for-2 against Princeton and 5-for-9 against California.
But heading into their next game against North Carolina A&T, the Knights must clean up their second-half performance if they hope to make it two in a row against last year's MEAC conference champions.
"I thought we were in a good rhythm at first and then we started to play to create situations on our own," Stringer said. "All of a sudden we start hesitating — throwing the ball up — and the next thing you know, we start forcing shots and struggling. When we do that it makes the shooters look bad."