Inconsistency plagues Knights
NEW YORK — A 17-2 Rutgers men’s basketball team run was little more than a distant memory by the time Day 1 of the Big East Tournament ended at Madison Square Garden.
The Scarlet Knights trailed by 5 when they hit five consecutive 3-pointers in a stretch that ended with a Dane Miller tip-in to cap the scoring stretch.
Then 14th-seeded Villanova countered with a 20-4 run of its own to turn a deficit as large as 8 into a lead by the same score. The Wildcats never looked back, eliminating Rutgers from the tournament and ending its season with a 70-49 loss.
“We made some mental errors that led to their transition, wide-open looks in the paint, and it just snowballed from there,” said head coach Mike Rice. “A young team may not have responded as well as I would like, but things happen. That’s life when you have a very young basketball team.”
Freshman guard Myles Mack hit the first 3-pointer to start the scoring, but junior wing Dane Miller again provided the spark. He hit the second 3-pointer before freshman guard Eli Carter sank three of his own.
Carter finished the first half 6-for-11 from the field and 3-for-4 from long range, but the entire team soon went cold.
Rice said Monday he expected his team to give another strong effort, but needed it to knock down open shots to advance to a second-round matchup with sixth-seeded South Florida.
Then they shot 3-for-25 in the second half en route to a 29.1 percent shooting clip for the game, which gave Villanova its best defensive performance in the Big East Tournament.
The Wildcats countered with a 45.8 shooting percentage, after shooting 50 percent from the field in a 77-71 victory Thursday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
“I don’t know how many missed layups it was, but it was a lot of missed opportunities,” Rice said. “That, and the execution wasn’t there. We just didn’t execute.”
Redshirt freshman Kadeem Jack fouled out with the wildly aggressive style of play that defined his season.
The 6-foot-9 forward returned Dec. 29 against Florida after undergoing surgery on his foot and played in 18 of the final 20 games. But the final one ended with 4:26 remaining in regulation.
Rice repeatedly said he could not wait until Jack strengthens his lower body in order to bang in the paint against the big-bodied Big East. Jack showed his willingness to against Villanova, grabbing three rebounds and scoring 5 points.
But his reckless abandon for blocked shots and rebounds did little to help him.
Freshman forward Greg Lewis made his first career start after averaging only 2.2 minutes per game in the Big East regular season.
He did not appear in nine of the 18 regular season league contests, and his most playing time (seven minutes) came in a pair of blowout losses to West Virginia.
He started and played 10 minutes last night, though, grabbing two rebounds with two assists, two turnovers and two fouls.
After senior walk-ons Mike Kuhn and Charlie Rigoglioso started their first career games Saturday against St. John’s, they ended their careers on the court at Madison Square Garden.
Trailing by 20 points with 1:07 remaining, Rice inserted the duo for their final collegiate games.