Biruta enjoys return to productivity
Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice expected this type of performance from Gilvydas Biruta all season long, but instead found the sophomore forward on his bench with foul trouble more often than he was involved in the paint.
The Biruta that Rice expected appeared at the Louis Brown Athletic Center yesterday, taking advantage of the holes in the heart of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone en route to a game-high 21 points.
“There was a Gilvydas Biruta sighting today, huh? That’s what I thought I’d have every game, to be honest with you,” Rice said after suffering a 74-64 loss to the second-ranked team in the nation. “The moon and the stars and the planets aligned today for Gil. There was a confidence about him.”
It was apparent from the outset, as Biruta put the Scarlet Knights on the board with a jumper from the foul line.
He scored the first six points for Rutgers and 10 of its first 12.
“That’s the Gil we all remember from last year,” said sophomore guard and former St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.) teammate Mike Poole. “He’s been through a slump, but he woke up.”
He did it against a patented zone defense and 7-foot sophomore Fab Melo.
Biruta consistently attacked Melo for a 9-of-14 performance from the field. He also made 3-of-4 foul shots and matched a career-high scoring total in addition to seven rebounds.
It was the third time in his career Biruta scored 20-plus points, but the first since Feb. 1, 2011, against Providence.
“Something bad is going to happen in this league — it always is,” Rice said. “He responded. You can see with Gil … that he’s not going to respond well, but he did.”
Sophomore forward C.J. Fair made his presence known off the Syracuse bench with his put-back baskets and alley-oops, but eight of his game-high 21 points came at the foul line.
Fair shot 8-for-8 from the free throw line, almost single-handedly outshooting Rutgers, which went 9-for-11.
“This team still has young bodies and young minds,” Rice said. “In the Big East, you have to seek that contact. The free throw disparity hurts.”
Rutgers attempted 64 foul shots this season against ranked Big East opponents. Those opponents attempted 153 in the same games.
The Knights took more trips to the foul line against only then-No. 10 Connecticut — the last game in which Rutgers completed an upset bid.
Rutgers suffered its first home loss against a top-10 team since Jan. 29, 2011, when it last welcomed the nation’s second-ranked team to the RAC.
The Knights fell by 2 to Pittsburgh and then beat the next three top-10 foes to travel to Piscataway. Villanova ranked ninth in the national polls last season, then Florida and Connecticut each ranked 10th overall when they fell this season.
“This is a tough place to play, I don’t care who you are,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “I think Florida is pretty good, Connecticut is pretty good. Notre Dame lost in here? They’re pretty good, too.”