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Rutgers lets lead slip away in final minutes against Houston, suffers exit in Round of 32

The Scarlet Knights were unable to finish off the Cougars on Sunday night to advance to the Sweet 16.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Rutgers at Houston Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Rutgers was heading toward a decision victory in a heavyweight fight against second-seeded Houston on Sunday night.

Up against the ropes, the Cougars were able to deliver the knockout shot to surprise the Scarlet Knights in the final minute.

Rutgers led for most of the second half until Houston was able to finish the game on a 14-2 run and score the final seven points of the game. The Scarlet Knights’ suffered a gut-wrenching 63-60 loss in Lucas Oil Stadium that robbed the program of its first trip to the Sweet 16 in 42 years.

In the first half, Rutgers was able to hang in defensively and on the glass against a Houston team that rebounds well on the offensive end. This showed up late for the Cougars as they ended with 16 offensive rebounds, including one by Tramon Mark that ended up being the play of the game.

Trailing 60-58 with 24.1 seconds left, Mark grabbed a rebound off a DeJon Jarreau miss and was able to convert plus a foul. A Geo Baker turnover led to two free throws by Marcus Sasser to give the Cougars a three-point lead. Ron Harper Jr. misfired on a 3-pointer to tie with three seconds left.

Just like that, Houston moves onto face No. 11 Syracuse next weekend in the Sweet 16.

Styles make fights and for 18 minutes in the second half, it was Rutgers’ style of play that took over.

The Scarlet Knights used the 3-point line and aggressiveness on the defensive end to build a double-digit lead with 11:19 left in the game. Rutgers finished 7-for-16 from beyond the arc.

From that moment on, Quenton Grimes began to take over. He lead all scorers with 22 points and none bigger than a 3-pointer to get the Cougars within two with 2:39 remaining. Baker would answer with a layup but this was the final basket of the game for the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers went scoreless over the final 2:04 of the game. It seems as though the offense began to take the air out of the ball a bit early. Houston was able to make plays at the end and rebound on both ends to gain control. The Cougars grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and scored 15 second chance points in the win.

Baker led Rutgers in scoring with 13 points while Montez Mathis added 10. The Scarlet Knights were able to take advantage of Houston turnovers scoring 21 points off them. After going 9-for-12 from the free throw line in the first half, Rutgers did not have an attempt over the final 20 minutes.

Rutgers ends its season with a 16-12 record and their best tournament finish since 1983. It is unknown what the future holds for this group but whatever it is, these players will certainly be remembered for bringing basketball back to Piscataway.