VILLANOVA, Pa.—Despite lacking Big East talent and being an undersized team, Rutgers’ gaping hole since preseason has been depth. While they made it through non-conference play without being exposed, it only took the first Big East game for the flaw to catch up with them.
Rutgers’ nine-man rotation has been cut down to eight as reserve forward Robert Lumpkins has missed the last two games due to personal reasons.
So with Austin Carroll injuring his left knee towards the end of the half, Rutgers was undermanned.
Then there was the foul trouble.
Forward Dane Miller (11 points) fouled out with five minutes to play. James Beatty (14 points) followed him to the bench, fouling out with 1:30 left.
The early fouls plagued Beatty as he was unable to play his typical in-your-face defense.
“Honestly I hate it,” the senior point guard said on playing with early fouls. “Especially on the ball defense. Sitting back, I can’t be as aggressive as I want to be, but I have to learn.
“It was hard for me to sit back and not be able to at least jab or mess with them with the ball in their hands because I hade some tick-tack fouls. It was definitely tough for me to sit back and let him [the point guard] direct their offense.”
Freshman forward Gilvydas Biruta capped off the exodus after getting a technical foul and ejection with 54.5 seconds left in the game.
Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said it was a “swipe,” but the referee gave Biruta a flagrant technical foul and early shower for the swing.
Up 37–33 at the half, the Scarlet Knights (9–4, 0–1) had the Wildcats (12–1, 1–0) right where they wanted them—in a low scoring game and preventing Villanova from getting out and running on a regular basis.
The second half however would not go the Scarlet Knights’ way.
In just over two minutes, the Wildcats stormed out to an 11–0 run, taking a 44–37 lead. The Knights were never able to fight their way back, and the short bench didn’t help.
Following a quiet first half, Corey Stokes came alive in the final 20 minutes for Nova. The 6-foot-5-inch senior guard scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half.
“In the first half we didn’t really run many screens for him,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We knew at half time if Corey Stokes has two points we’re in trouble so second half we just ran him off some screens and [Corey] Fish[er] and Maalik [Wayns] found him in transition.”
After hanging with the No. 8 team in the country and one of the top teams in the conference, one would think that leading at half and competing as well as they did could be seen as a moral victory for Rutgers who was picked to finish 15th out of 16 teams in the conference.
But not with this team.
When Rice was asked about it, his senior point guard interjected.
“No. Not at all. It’s a loss,” Beatty said. “I don’t care if we lost by one point or we lost by 30. There are no moral victories because at the end of the day, it’s a loss.
“You can’t say, ‘Oh they’re No. 8 and we’re whatever or whoever.’ At the end of the day, it’s a loss and if anybody thinks that we’re OK with losing or we’re OK with playing Villanova close and being up on them at halftime by four, that’s crazy.”
Senior forward Jonathan Mitchell echoed Beatty’s words.
“At the end of the day, we’re 0–1 in the Big East,” Mitchell said. “That’s all that matters, wins and losses. There are no moral victories for this program.”
Follow Matt on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MattSugam and tune in every Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST on WRSU-FM as he co-hosts Scarlet Fever discussing Rutgers, Big East basketball and football, as well as N.Y. sports.