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Rutgers defeats Michigan State, remains undefeated at home in conference play

Anything can happen at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Coming off a 20-point over No. 11 Ohio State, Michigan State may have been the hottest team in the Big Ten entering its meeting with the Rutgers women’s basketball team Saturday afternoon. But the Scarlet Knights rose to the occasion, knocking off the Spartans 62-58.

The Knights (6-13, 3-3) are remain undefeated at home in conference play, having beaten two teams in Penn State and Michigan State that not many people expected them to.

Spartan Lexi Gussert hit back-to-back three-pointers with under 8 minutes left in the game to put Michigan State up by 10 and the way the Spartans were playing, it seemed like they were well on their way to victory. 

But the Knights stormed back and didn’t allow a field goal for the final 5:44 to push them to victory.

“I think it was huge because it helps us with our level of confidence. We’re a team that’s been up and down,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “What’s important is that we demonstrate to ourselves that we can be really up when the big games are there.”

Rutgers was put ahead for good when junior wing Kandiss Barber drove into the lane and finished a tough layup with her left hand and was fouled. Although just a 42.5 percent free throw shooter, she hit her shot and put Rutgers up 60-58 with 20 seconds.

Barber made 8 of her 11 free throws on the day, having by far her best free throw shooting game of the season.

“It was huge just knowing I’m putting my team up and knowing how much I’ve been practicing those free throws,” she said. “It paid off.”

Junior guard Shrita Parker has been the Knights’ best scorer this season and led her team with 20 points.

But it was the defense that won this game for Rutgers.

Michigan State senior guard Tori Jankoska is arguably the best player in the Big Ten and had 20 points and 7 assists, controlling the game for the Spartans. After Barber’s and-one and down just 2 points with the shot clock off, Jankoska had a chance to lead her team to victory. 

But the Knights were able to force a turnover and Jeune was fouled and sent to the free throw line, where she iced the game for Rutgers, hitting both shots.

“Rutgers is known for defense,” said Parker, one of the leaders of the team. “That’s what we live off of and that’s what we always practice.”

Rutgers has seen its highs and very low lows this season, from their conference victories to their non-conference blowout losses. 

The Knights have been able to turn these into learning experiences. As a very inexperienced team, Rutgers is learning a lot this year. 

“We’ve been there. We’ve already had our downs. We know how to handle it,” Barber said. “We just gather together, know we have to stick together, and keep it pushing.”

Examples of learning games would be the game against James Madison, where the Knights pushed the Dukes into triple overtime but still lost, or the game against Houston, where Rutgers had a double-digit lead with 5 minutes left and wound up losing. 

The Knights responded by playing great down the stretch against Seton Hall. They are able to see both sides of close games that go down to the wire. That is not a luxury they had early in the season, when many of the players were seeing their first real action in a Scarlet Knights uniform.

“We just showed ice water in our veins,” said Stringer. “A real focus of playing one possession at a time and getting it done”

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

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