Stringer: I will not coach in WNIT
A crystal ball can not predict where the Rutgers women's basketball team is going to end up this postseason.
But after last night's 60-52 loss to No. 18 St. John's, head coach C. Vivian Stringer knows one place the Scarlet Knights will not be headed — the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
"People have asked me if we're going to the NIT. I don't know anything about the NIT and I can guarantee you I won't be coaching a team that goes to the NIT," Stringer said. "If we don't go to the NCAAs then we aren't going [to the postseason], because I'm not going to the NIT. It's second in my opinion and I never will accept it — I never have accepted it. Don't even ask me that question, ever. … I'd rather leave the country because I can't even be here in March."
While the intensity that was absent in the team's previous game to Syracuse returned, the Scarlet Knights could not overcome the usual culprits — missed looks and turnovers. Rutgers shot 23-of-64 from the floor in the game and turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 19 points from the Red Storm.
"We could have won this game. That's the name of what our whole [season] has been," Stringer said. "We coulda, woulda, mighta shoulda."
Sophomore guard Khadijah Rushdan shouldered the brunt of the load on offense with 14 points and added 10 rebounds for her second double-double this season.
Chelsey Lee recorded nine points and nine rebounds, but the sophomore forward's efforts were overshadowed by what could have been. Lee went only 4-of-10 from the floor and missed numerous opportunities in the paint.
After the game, a disappointed Rushdan stared at the box score, at another game that got away. She remained adamant, though, about RU's potential to win if they can put the pieces together this late in the year.
"We can beat anybody. We can beat anybody we want to," Rushdan said. "This team has so much potential but you can't go anywhere with potential. I believe that we can get it done, but we can't keep talking about it we've got to do it."
A deep three-pointer from freshman guard Erica Wheeler gave the Knights a 36-35 advantage with just under 11 minutes to play — the first time RU led the game in 20 minutes. The Red Storm quickly took their lead back as RU could not convert on back-to-back possessions.
From that point on the game devolved into an old-fashioned shootout.
Neither the Knights nor St. John's were able to hold the lead for more than a minute as the teams traded buckets down the stretch — then guard Kelly McManmon made her mark. Whenever the Knights were able to knot the game in the second half, Red Storm guard McManmon was there to answer with a three-point shot.
McManmon finished with 12 points — nine in the second half — to help push the dagger into the Knights' armor. St. John's stormed ahead to a 49-42 lead with six minutes to play, and RU found itself unable to recover.
Combined, RU had more fouls and turnovers in the first half than it did points. The Knights turned the ball over 12 times and racked up 10 team fouls, but managed to score only 21 points.
Luckily for the Knights, the Red Storm struggled from the charity stripe, hitting only four of their 10 free throw opportunities to keep the game within four points.
But in the end, while the effort had returned, the wins didn't — another crucial game slipped narrowly through the Knights' fingers.
"Effort doesn't win games," Lee said. "Numbers do."