Knights outlast SHU in double overtime
Within seconds of the buzzer sounding one final time, Syessence Davis grinned ear-to-ear and bear-hugged Betnijah Laney. Other members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team made their rounds along the Louis Brown Center hardwood as emotions ran high.
But first they had to catch their breath, and with good reason.
The Scarlet Knights trailed Seton Hall by eight points with 2:22 left in regulation. They surrendered a go-ahead jumper in the lane with five seconds remaining. Five players fouled out.
And in what could have been the Knights’ final shot of the season, sophomore guard Briyona Canty mustered the will to hit a free throw with 0.2 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
Somehow, someway, Rutgers survived a war of attrition last night in Piscataway, 91-79, in double overtime to advance to the WNIT quarterfinals.
The Knights (25-9) next play at Bowling Green on Monday night, just three wins away from the program’s first-ever WNIT Championship.
“I was really proud of our team,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “No one was willing to give up. Everything mattered — where we were and recognizing where everybody else was on the floor. … I give great respect and credit to Seton Hall. They had some really fine players and played well.”
By the time the second overtime arrived, the Knights were on the better end of what resembled a boxing ring all night long.
Four Seton Hall (20-14) players fouled out and Rutgers took advantage, churning out a 13-0 run with four different Knights scoring.
A technical foul on Seton Hall head coach Anthony Bozzella with 1:03 left served as the pinnacle of the Pirates’ fatigue.
“We just ran out of gas,” Bozzella said. “It’s hard, they’re a good team. It’s hard to play without one starter ... two, and three. It’s hard when the knees start cramping up. It’s very difficult.”
Rutgers, on the other hand, never relented.
The Knights lost Davis, arguably their top defender and floor general, for the final 12:48 — including both overtimes. Others experienced the game’s climax in foul trouble.
But with its season on the line, Rutgers saw strong contributions across the board.
Laney, sophomore wing Kahleah Copper and freshman guard Tyler Scaife all scored at least 20 points. As a team the Knights went to the free throw line an excessive 41 times, converting 35.
“I can’t even say this was a test. We’ve been here before,” Copper said. “The coaches kept reminding us, ‘This is nothing. This is ball taps.’ We do ball taps [in practice] for I can’t even remember how many minutes, but we go through this and it’s a mental test in practice, so it’s like, ‘We can’t quit. We don’t know how to quit.’”
Canty stole the ball from Seton Hall guard Ka-Deidre Simmons, sped down the floor and flipped the ball to freshman guard Tyler Scaife for an easy layup. That gave the Knights a 6-point lead with 1:54 left in the overtime.
But then Pirates forward Tabatha Richardson-Smith asserted her way to two layups to help extend the game into another overtime.
Canty made both overtimes possible with everything at stake from the charity stripe.
After Simmons drove and rattled home a go-ahead layup to make it 62-61, Seton Hall, Canty took the inbound and pushed for any opportunity to score.
She drew an ill-advised foul just inside the 3-point arc with 0.2 seconds remaining, left the first free throw attempt a little too strong off the back iron and then calmly gathered herself to save Rutgers’ season by sinking the second attempt.
“You just forget about the first one, and you just try your best to make the second,” Canty said. “I’m thinking, ‘We’ve got another game left.’”
Nothing was more telling of the in-state rivalry’s heavyweight bout than the fact it produced 11 ties and 18 lead changes.
Rutgers built a 10-7 lead in the first six minutes of action behind crisp jumpers from Copper and Scaife, but Seton Hall’s ball security made it difficult to pull away. The Pirates turned it over just four times in the first half.
Once the Knights started missing more shots, Seton Hall began pushing the ball in transition.
Five layups sparked a 14-4 Pirates run to build a 21-14 lead, as the Knights suffered lapses helping on dribble penetration.
Then Rutgers grinded its way back with seven straight points in two minutes to even the score at the 6:27 mark. Laney hit a tough step-back jumper and Hollivay tipped in a missed layup during the stretch.
The Knights were at their best once Copper started attacking along the baseline.
With the shot clock winding down, she drove the lane, got fouled on a layup and completed a 3-point play to make it 21-21 with 6:27 left in the first half.
Rutgers and Seton Hall continued to exchange blows, but ultimately the Knights delivered the dagger.
“We really stuck together and it was impressive,” Stringer said, “so we’re excited about how we played as a unit and look forward to the next game.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.