Late run bolsters Tennessee past Rutgers in another missed opportunity for Knights
The score and the opponent were different, but the feeling was identical.
In fact, according to head coach C. Vivian Stringer, this one hurt twice as bad.
Again, the No. 17 Rutgers women’s basketball team hosted a top-15 opponent in front of an electric crowd at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Again, the Scarlet Knights commanded the tempo for majority of the contest.
But, again, they came up short.
“This one, personally, hurt more,” Stringer said Sunday after Rutgers' 55-45 loss to No. 11 Tennessee. “This one hurt more because North Carolina, they were a team that shot the ball well from the three-point range, so there was a reason. These guys weren’t shooting … so, really, it bothers me. This one is not sitting well with me.”
Down the stretch, the Volunteers stunned the Knights (8-2), rallying off a 16-2 run in the final 7:13 of play to steal a win on the road.
It initially looked as if Tennessee (7-2) had no answer for the suffocating defense that Rutgers put on display. Through the game’s opening half, the Volunteers couldn’t manage to get anything going offensively, shooting 18 percent from the field.
While the Knights didn’t fare much better in that statistical category, they did look more composed.
Feeding off an energetic crowd, Rutgers closed out the half with a surge of momentum. Despite their own lack of offensive production and struggles shooting the ball as a team, the Knights fed off the electric performance that Tyler Scaife was putting on.
The sophomore guard opened up hot, pulling up and nailing midrange buckets in addition to attacking the rim to pace the Knights to a 23-20 lead at halftime.
She continued to carry the offense on her back into the second half, totaling 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists when all was said and done.
But as the clock wound down, the lack of scoring contributions from her teammates put too much pressure on Scaife — and Tennessee accounted for it.
Late in the second half, the Volunteers switched from their original man-to-man look on defense to a 2-3 zone. The change in schemes forced the Knights away from the basket, daring them to take shots outside their comfort zone.
Scaife, though, said that the Knights are accustomed to taking them — they just didn’t fall.
“Like coach said, we didn’t hit shots that we usually make,” Scaife said. “We missed some easy layups, you know, that’s really what it all comes down to. We just missed easy shots, honestly.”
Senior wing Betnijah Laney, a consistent catalyst for the Knights all season long, was nowhere to be found. Laney said that she injured her thumb on the first play of the game, and from that point on, her contributions were greatly limited.
Lacking Laney’s rebounding abilities, Tennessee dominated Rutgers on the glass, 54-42. The Volunteers boasted five players with at least six rebounds and began to own the post late in the game led by the efforts of Isabelle Harrison, who collected 11 points and 13 rebounds.
“We stopped rebounding. We just didn’t get it done. We lost focus, we just lost focus,” Stringer said. “… We obviously need a heck of a lot of rebounds coming from everybody else, and it didn’t happen … but we are going to be rebounding, I can guarantee you that, because that’s where the game is lost.”
Junior guard Briyona Canty, who had a poor 3-for-15 outing from the field with six points and three assists, put the Knights up, 43-39, after her layup with 7:13 remaining.
She likely did not think that it would be the last basket Rutgers would manage.
From that moment on, it was all Tennessee. As the Knights went on to shoot 1-for-10 from the floor to close out the game, the Volunteers shot 4-of-9 and made their free throws count, going a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe to close out a 16-2 run.
Despite the worst field goal percentage in a winning effort for Tennessee since the 2007 Final Four, the Volunteers pulled it together at the right time to leave Rutgers in a state of shock.
“It bothered us more because we knew what we had to do,” Laney said. “I think, in the first game [against North Carolina] we knew what we had to do and we did it — it just happened not to fall our way. But this game, we knew what we had to and we didn’t execute our game plan at all.”
Stringer chimed in immediately after, stressing the disappointment surrounding the path to the loss.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. That’s a perfect analogy,” she said. “We knew what we had to do. And when we did it from time to time, it worked. But for whatever reason, we just went south somewhere.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports.
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