Fourth quarter troubles bite Rutgers again in 59-48 loss at No. 21 Michigan State
The return of head coach C. Vivian Stringer to the sideline could not remedy the struggles on the road for the Rutgers women’s basketball team.
A 59-48 loss to Michigan State in East Lansing continued the downward trend for the Scarlet Knights (12-7, 3-4) on Tuesday night, dropping their record as the away team to 1-6 on the year and stretching their streak to seven straight losses against Big Ten road opponents.
Junior guard Tyler Scaife’s 24 points weren’t enough to deter a relentless push by the Spartans (14-4, 5-2) down the stretch. They stole the lead early in the fourth quarter and never relinquished it.
With 8:21 to play, Scaife sank two free-throws to cap a 10-0 run by the Knights, making it 44-40 in their favor. Unfortunately for the visitors, Sparty answered emphatically, closing the game out on a 19-4 run to make it back-to-back losses on the road for Rutgers.
It was a defeat that looked eerily familiar.
Against Nebraska in Lincoln last Saturday, Rutgers outplayed the Cornhuskers in each of the first three periods, but was outscored, 24-11, in the fourth quarter to suffer an 11-point defeat.
At Michigan State, the game was tied after three periods of play.
But the Knights were ultimately outscored in the final frame again — 18-9 this time — for Rutgers' fourth loss this month, all coming away from Piscataway.
“That’s the same problem that happened at Nebraska,” Stringer said after the loss. “And it’s unfortunate, because we’ve got seniors. So, you know, that’s the last thing that you expect, but it is what it is. If we don’t have control, if the guards aren’t confident enough, then you’re gonna see just what happened, happen.”
One of those seniors, wing Kahleah Copper, had an off-night.
The Philadelphia native fouled out of the game after posting nine points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes on the floor.
Foul trouble continues to plague Copper, who entered the game averaging 16.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest, but three first-half fouls forced Stringer to put the senior on the bench for large chunks in the first 20 minutes.
MSU forward Aerial Powers was a concern for the defense entering the tilt, boasting 21.9 points per game. Powers posted a double-double that included a team-high 18 points and 12 boards, highlighting the discrepancy on the glass between the two conference foes.
Michigan State outrebounded the Knights, 43-30, including 19 coming on the offensive end. It is a stat that did not sit well with Stringer postgame.
“We have turnovers — crucial turnovers, lazy cuts, and that always leads to the transition back into the other end of the floor," she said. "And then they got second and third opportunities to rebound a lot, because we didn’t block out.”
Rutgers had control after two quarters.
Although the Knights’ lead was just three points at 28-25 heading into the locker room, it didn’t appear to be nearly that close.
Michigan State trailed, 28-21, after sophomore guard Shrita Parker drained a 3-pointer for Rutgers. But the home team scored the half’s final four points to make it look a little closer.
Stringer believed the defensive alignment in the second half could have contributed to the breakdowns on that end in the game’s closing minutes.
“I thought, for the most part, we probably played a decent control game in the first half," she said. "But we were gonna play a zone, but we decided to play man, and I still would agree with that but I think that we weren’t free, we didn’t have time to block shots. And that was my concern, honestly.”
Scaife’s continued hot streak is definitely a positive that can be gleaned from an otherwise disappointing road defeat.
The Little Rock, Arkansas, native has averaged 22.2 points over her last four games, boosting her season average to 17.8 points per game after entering East Lansing with the 10th-best scoring average in the conference.
Scaife scored 27 against Ohio State in the last matchup between the schools Jan. 10, but the Buckeyes beat the visiting Knights handily, 90-78.
OSU will visit the Banks for the final installment Sunday at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Asked about how to defend her next opponent, Stringer was unsure.
“Oh, I don’t know. The same things. We’ve gotta get back in defensive transition, make sure they’re stopping the dribble penetration,” she said. “I think there was some things we should have done in terms of exposing the big people. And we didn’t do it. They gave us a lot of opportunities because they missed a lot of shots down the stretch and if we could’ve just executed. But we didn’t."