Late burst advances Rutgers in NIT

<p>Sophomore wing Kahleah Copper eyes a layup last night at the RAC. Copper finished with game highs of 19 points and 12 boards to help Rutgers top Harvard and host Seton Hall on Thursday in the Round of 16 of the NIT.</p>

Sophomore wing Kahleah Copper eyes a layup last night at the RAC. Copper finished with game highs of 19 points and 12 boards to help Rutgers top Harvard and host Seton Hall on Thursday in the Round of 16 of the NIT.

Four days after head coach C. Vivian Stringer expressed frustration with how the Rutgers women’s basketball team uncharacteristically missed “bunnies” under the bright lights of the postseason, more shooting woes threatened a bitter ending.

After jumping out to a 14-5 lead in the second round of the NIT last night at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, the Scarlet Knights fell into an all too familiar scoring lull.

They missed their next 11 shots as Harvard went on a 9-0 run, capped off by a 3-pointer, to take a 15-14 lead with 8:38 to play in the first half.

But Rutgers’ most impassioned play of the night came with the prospect of its season ending.

Sophomore forward Rachel Hollivay corralled an offensive board and put back what appeared to be an and-1 layup that would have given the Knights a 33-28 lead. Then the officials gathered and waved it off, instead slapping junior wing Betnijah Laney for a technical foul on the play.

Harvard made both free throws, and then senior guard Jasmine Evans converted a layup to give the Crimson its first lead of the half, 32-31, with 17:17 left.

It lasted 34 seconds.

The Knights responded with a 14-2 run to establish their largest lead of the night at 45-34 with 10:01 to play. Harvard cut the deficit to no less than 7 points the rest of the way.

“They said that [Laney] was intentional and flagrant when she threw her hands back on the rebound, which was disgusting. I’ve never seen her intentionally try to hurt anybody,” Stringer said. “What’s most important I think is that the team decided that they were going to come up with an attitude and play that much tougher. It was great. We got the ball where we needed to, and continued to play hard, so I was real proud of the way they played.”

Rutgers (24-9) advances to host Seton Hall in the Round of 16 of the NIT on Thursday night.

Sophomore wing Kahleah Copper finished with 19 points on 7-for-16 field goal shooting to lead all scorers. She also collected a game-high 12 rebounds.

Copper scored 8 of 10 points during the Knights’ game-clinching burst, again showing a knack for lifting Rutgers when it has needed a spark this season.

“I don’t know if I feel like the game is on my shoulders because I always have four other people out there to get the job done,” Copper said. “But I knew I could get to the rim and do whatever I had to do — get the rebound, put it back up — do whatever to keep us on top.”

It helped make up for freshman guard Tyler Scaife’s season-low 4 points in 16 minutes and Rutgers’ 39 percent shooting as a whole. Laney was the only other Knight to finish in double figures with 17 points, including 15 in the second half.

Defensively the Knights upped the intensity in the final 20 minutes as Harvard (22-8) finished with 20 turnovers.

Junior guard Syessence Davis snatched four steals, arguably none bigger than when she stripped guard Christine Clark on a transition layup with 9:06 left. On the other end, Davis dished a game-high eight assists.

Clark, Harvard’s leading scorer at 16.7 points per game, finished with just 11 and only 4 points in the first half as Davis played tight man coverage.

And the Crimson, which averages 6.3 threes per game, were reduced to just 7-for-21 shooting from downtown.

“We know when we’re not doing that well offensively, we definitely can’t allow a team to come down and score on the other end,” Laney said. “We know that they’re a 3-point team, so just making sure that they’re not getting off as many threes as they would like, making sure that they’re not dribble penetrating and kicking or shooting [was our game plan].”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

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