Foul trouble dooms Rutgers in loss to No. 25 Michigan State

<p>Senior center Rachel Hollivay gathers a rebound in Rutgers’ 70-67 loss to No. 25 Michigan State at the RAC Thursday night.</p>

Senior center Rachel Hollivay gathers a rebound in Rutgers’ 70-67 loss to No. 25 Michigan State at the RAC Thursday night.

The Rutgers women’s basketball team got their second crack this season at No. 25 Michigan State on Thursday night, this time hosting the Spartans at the Rutgers Athletic Center. 

Riding a three-game winning streak heading into the matchup, the Scarlet Knights got off to a blazing start, but were unable to maintain their leads and fell in a crushing loss, 70-67.

The Knights (16-11 7-8) led 17-4 after the first quarter, getting off to hot starts on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

They shot 8-for-14 from the field in the opening period, while holding the Spartans (19-7, 10-5) to an anemic 1-for-20 in the first 10 minutes of play.

The team’s leading scorers on the season were key to giving Rutgers an early spark.

Junior guard Tyler Scaife scored 6 points in the first quarter, while senior wing Kahleah Copper added 5.

But after the quick start for Rutgers, the Spartans came all the way back to take the lead at 26-25 with three minutes remaining in the second quarter.

They began to push the tempo and shot more efficiently, making 7 of their 16 shots in the quarter.

The Knights then responded with runs of their own and led 33-26 going into halftime.

Like they did in the opening quarter, the Knights were able to score early and often to begin the second half.

They went on a 10-3 run to take a 43-29 lead with 5:39 remaining in the third quarter.

In fact, Rutgers led for 36 minutes of the game and were ahead 50-41 entering the fourth quarter, but then felt some pressure as Michigan State launched a final comeback attempt.

Copper and senior center Rachel Hollivay fouled out late in the fourth quarter, and that opened up the gates for a Spartan comeback which they would not look back from.

Trailing 65-60 with 1:53 to play, they went on a 10-2 run to end the game.

Copper had 11 points and six rebounds before exiting, and is always a steady veteran presence on the floor.

It was a tough ending for the Knights, and when things got tenuous, they struggled to maintain their cool.

“We didn’t demonstrate composure, and they did,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “We didn’t focus and we had some miscommunication … In the fourth quarter we couldn’t seem to find them, and it was ridiculous.”

Aerial Powers finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds, giving the Knights trouble, especially when Hollivay was forced out.

It was her fifth game of at least 25 points in her last six outings, and she gave Rutgers all it could handle down the stretch.

“Aerial Powers settled down and decided to take over like she always does,” Stringer said. “She’s a great players, and the great ones do takeover.”

A common occurrence in nearly every game for Rutgers is an offensive spark from Scaife.

The Little Rock, Arkansas, native entered the contest against Michigan State averaging 17.3 points per game, which makes her the team’s leading scorer.

She also raises her game against conference foes, as she began Thursday averaging 18.4 points per game in Big Ten play.

She added to that total in Thursday’s victory, scoring 22 points on 9-for-18 shooting from the field.

When Copper and Hollivay fouled out in the fourth quarter, it made things a bit more difficult for Scaife and her teammates, and the Spartans were able to take advantage.

They outscored Rutgers 29-17 in the fourth quarter, and were able to hone in on Scaife defensively without her two star teammates.

She played all 40 minutes of the game, and did all she could to keep the Knights in it at the end.

“I wouldn’t say it gave me any more pressure (when Copper and Hollivay fouled out,) but it’s tough not having them,” Scaife said. “Rachel blocks, rebounds, scores. Kah runs the floor. It was a big loss not having them out there, but that’s part of the game and we have to be able to capitalize without them.”

The Spartans entered the game averaging 75.3 points per game, but sputtered to get things going right from the outset of play.

A lot of that had to do with the presence of senior center Rachel Hollivay.

She has already set the school record for career blocks this season with 310, but added to that total and set another record Thursday night.

Hollivay recorded a season-high eight blocks, while also setting the Big Ten record for most blocks in a season with 98.

She also added 8 points and ten rebounds, as she continues to provide the Knights with a stabilizing force in the paint.

After a tough team loss, she was able to reflect a bit on the accomplishment, but lamented that she could not remain in the game the whole way through.

“I wasn’t aware of that, but it means a lot,” Hollivay said. “That’s my bread and butter. I really like blocking shots, but I just couldn’t stop fouling tonight.”

With some conference games left on the docket, there is still some time for the Knights to move up the conference standings.

Hollivay believes they can still reach their goals if they move past this loss quickly.

“We’ve got to just put this one behind us,” she said.

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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