PISCATAWAY, N.J.—Since preseason, Rutgers has talked about proving the naysayers wrong.
Undermanned, undersized, and lacking talent, the Scarlet Knights were picked to finish at the bottom of the Big East in the preseason poll.
While Rutgers has turned some heads three quarters of the way through the season, everyone will be looking now despite a 65–62 lost to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Rutgers (12–9, 3–6) took control from the opening tip, starting the game on a 10–3 run. After No. 2 Pitt (20–2, 8–1) went on a 6–0 run of their own to close the gap to one, it was a back and forth the rest of the way.
Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, they found themselves on the wrong end of the see-saw when the final buzzer sounded.
After a couple of good defensive stands in one possession, Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs, who finished with 24 points, nailed a deep three from the wing with four seconds on the shot clock and 55 seconds left in the game to put the Panthers up 61–57.
“That’s why he’s a preseason all-league player,” Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said of Gibbs. “We were just a little slow getting out to Ashton [Gibbs] and boy did he throw a dagger in.”
Rutgers caught a break a couple possessions later when Lamar Patterson traveled following an inbounds pass with 35 seconds left. Robert Lumpkins (12 points) capitalized on the turnover with an open layup to get Rutgers down 63–62 with 0:21 to play.
After a pair of free throws from Brad Wannamaker, head coach Mike Rice wanted to turn to their best shooter—James Beatty—to take a three down 65–62. But Beatty couldn’t get open.
“I wanted JB [Beatty] to just come around and shoot a three,” head coach Mike Rice said. “But he kind of stood in the corner.”
It didn’t help that one of the nation’s top defensive teams had Beatty locked down.
“They were face guarding our best 3-point shooter,” Rice said. “I don’t know if James [Beatty] could have gotten the ball.”
Dane Miller’s desperation three with six seconds left—something Rice didn’t want to see—sealed the Knights fate.
While Rutgers doesn’t acknowledge moral victories, the rest of the Big East won’t be overlooking this squad.
“This just goes to show you that we can play with anyone in the country when we come out and have the right mindset and that right attitude,” Rutgers forward Jonathan Mitchell said. “But this one hurts because we let this one slip away.”
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattSugam and tune in every Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST on WRSU-FM as he cohost’s Scarlet Fever discussing Rutgers, Big East basketball, football, and other New York sports.