AAC Tournament: Rutgers' embarrassment to Louisville nears worst loss in team history
MEMPHIS — No one said things would be easy for the Rutgers men’s basketball team.
But after the Scarlet Knights’ 92-31 loss to Louisville today, head coach Eddie Jordan already owns three losses more lopsided than any in the Mike Rice era.
Rice’s worst defeat came was a 70-49 rout against Villanova in 2012’s Big East Tournament. That was mild compared to Rutgers’ AAC quarterfinal loss.
The Knights nearly suffered their most lopsided loss in team history, which was a 65-point differential to Lehigh in 1907.
Rutgers played intimidated to end its season. The fear reflected through lack of force to earn rebounds and absence of physicality to get free throws.
Seventh-seeded Rutgers (12-21, 4-14) got no free throws in the first half, when second-seeded Louisville (27-5, 16-3) shot 23 by halftime.
Louisville recorded 44 points off 26 turnovers, and its bench outscored all of Rutgers with 32 points.
“Nothing worked tonight, so the X’s and O’s were thrown out the window,” Jordan said postgame. “It was something that we even said in pregame: the X’s and O’s are probably not going to be the most important part of our success tonight. It’s going to be making basketball plays.”
Every easy outlet basket surrendered, each turnover from the trap and full-court press and every time Rutgers put its hands up too slowly on defense contributed to the pounding.
And guard Tim Henderson’s 3-pointer with 2:48 left that bounced twice off the left of the rim before sinking validated a belief that every bounce went Louisville’s way.
Junior wing Malick Kone broke a four-minute scoreless stretch by making a free throw with 9:11 remaining.
That barely scraped Louisville’s 81-26 lead.
Rutgers kept up with Louisville’s tempo early in the first half, but it took little time for the Knights to stop making baskets.
Before junior wing Craig Brown’s tip-in with 13:34 left, Rutgers last sunk a field goal when senior forward Wally Judge made a jumper with 18 minutes to go.
“We just wanted to pack our zone in and see if we could win the [second] half,” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. “And [the Cardinals] held their own, forcing 26 turnovers and only turning it over 10 times and turned them over in the half court, which was a little surprising.”
Louisville more than tripled Rutgers’ score at one point by halftime, ending the period with a 58-16 lead.
Freshman forward Junior Etou subtlety displayed Rutgers’ lack of initiative in the opening period.
Etou let a rebound hit the ground as his body surrounded it before cupping it with both hands. He picked it up after a Mangok Mathiang free throw with 9:54 left in the first.
Then on offense, Rutgers stood still. The Knights settled for shots that forced a three-minute scoring drought before Jack made a midrange jumper with 4:56 left in the half.
Louisville ended the half with a 17-1 run. By hauling lengthy passes in the half-court instead of slicing toward the basket, Rutgers made it easy for Louisville to take a 17-3 first-half turnover advantage.
The Knights’ beautiful dream in which they played competitively against even elite teams ended when the Cardinals stepped on the court.
The dream started once Rutgers got past Feb. 16’s 102-54 loss at Louisville. Then two victories and four single-digit losses ensued.
Except now after Rutgers’ second Louisville-induced nightmare, the season holds no tomorrow.
“I think sometimes we can wear them out,” Pitino said. “The passing is not as sharp as they’d like. I really don’t have much of an answer to say why because they’ve been playing good basketball prior to this night.”
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