Rutgers 29 - Syracuse 18
Rutgers 26 - Notre Dame 13
Rutgers 23 - St. John's 11
Rutgers 26 - Pitt 18
Rutgers 22 - Cincy 15
That's five, count them, five games where the Rutgers men's basketball team gave a valiant effort throughout the first half, only to be felled by a wide foul/free throw disparity. One game is an isolated incident. Five is a trend. It's hard enough to win in the Big East under normal circumstances. "Name" teams and players getting the benefit of the doubt from referees is a fact of life. That's why Rutgers freshman Gil Biruta fouls out in overtime and Syracuse senior Rick Jackson does not. They get doubly penalized for daring to be a defense-first club.
And here we thought this was supposed to be the Big East, where they let the players settle everything on the court. Nope. When Rutgers is involved, conference officiating resembles a cross between an ACC flopfest and a European football match. Every top half Big East team needs to shut the hell up about Tim Higgins. You have no right to complain, none, until you've been mired in the bottom quarter of the league for years.
Rutgers can only hope to get the same courtesy in a year or two after Mike Rice and co. have the team truly firing on all cylinders. But goddamn, if Rutgers fans weren't already harboring homicidal intentions towards the league office in Providence before hand (by the way, congrats on the Big East's Tori Spelling losing to DePaul), there is no cause for celebration tonight. Louisville and Pitino better watch out on Tuesday, because the RAC Is going to smell blood.
Syracuse walked away with the victory, but this game can't leave the Orange faithful exactly feeling confident going forward. Rutgers clearly wanted this one more, far more. Syracuse came out flat mind you, but the near-upset was just as much caused by their inherent roster flaws. Jackson is clearly valuable, but his fortune has slumped along with the overall team. Scoop Jardine's mental inconsistencies were on full display today, as were the Boeheim zone's inability to defend threes.
If it wasn't apparent from the scoreboard, the Rutgers coaching staff deserves a gold star for this one. It was befuddling why Syracuse didn't do more to try to get Biruta into foul trouble early. If that had happened, they could have run away with this one. Instead, the game plan on the day was to focus on Jonathan Miller and his hot hand. That may have been warranted by his recent box scores, but it opened a ton up outside. That factor, Scoop, and a little luck combined to give Mike Coburn a quality game on the offensive end. Unfortunately, Rutgers just isn't polished enough offensively to fight back with one hand tied behind their back.
My God, did they try though. There are a lot of folks in upstate New York who must have expected a slightly-better DePaul or USF today and proceeded to sweat through their Saturday evening best. Moral victories exist; more accurately, it's called the Pythagorean theorem. Rutgers can't keep losing close games against top 25 teams forever, as the miracle against Villanova proved. Now the challenge becomes to maintain and redouble this intensity against Louisville Tuesday at the RAC. And, for the love of Phil Sellers, do not fall into Syracuse's trap today against DePaul and Providence down the stretch.
Rutgers is tapping against the conference glass ceiling. When they do break through, and it sure looks like they are about to, games like today's contest will be seen as crucial glimpses into what was to come.