Everything came crashing down on Rutgers with five minutes to play when sophomore forward Gilvydas Biruta committed his fifth personal foul.
Already in dire straits with just four active post players, when Biruta fouled out, LSU played just well enough to control the final minute in a 55-50 victory for the Tigers.
“It was shame that we didn’t finish it out with more courage and toughness on the offensive end,” said Rutgers coach Mike Rice. “I don’t know if these guys were waiting on Dwight Howard or LeBron James to pop up. It’s not going to happen. These guys have to go make a play.”
Down to four post players with a combined three years of college experience, Rutgers battled foul trouble and turnovers for 39 minutes, but LSU guard Anthony Hickey hit two go-ahead shots and forward Johnny O’Bryant iced the game with a slam dunk and two free throws in the final 12 seconds.
On the final two possessions, Rutgers did not even get off a shot against the LSU defense.
“We caved in,” Rice said. “You didn’t give yourself an opportunity. We turned down two shots that I would have loved to have. I would have been OK if they missed it to be honest with you. ... To not shoot it, to not step up and have enough toughness or confidence is disappointing.”
After Biruta fouled out for Rutgers, LSU dominated every aspect on a 12-2 run.
“Going in, we knew he was a focal point on what they do,” said LSU coach Trent Johnson. “He’s a good player, so we obviously felt we had a decided advantage.”
Biruta missed significant time because of a cramp along with his foul trouble. In just 20 minutes, the sophomore took two shots, but used the free throw line to finish with eight points.
“It hurt us a lot,” Rice said. “He didn’t even play in the second half. He had a mystery cramp that popped up and completely took him out of his game. When you don’t have Gil, creating, drawing fouls, he’s our best paint scorer. We’re going to struggle at times.”
Lacking Biruta or injured freshman Malick Kone in the post, freshman guard Elijah Carter led Rutgers (4-4) with 10 points in 26 minutes.
For the Tigers (5-3), guard Andre Stringer scored 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting and O’Bryant added 11 points and six boards.”
“We haven’t shot the ball well in the last couple of games,” Johnson said. “We won on the defensive end and that’s going to be a staple for us. Defending and rebounding, if we can do those things, we have a chance to make some noise throughout the year.”
Rutgers returns to action Wednesday to play Princeton. LSU hosts Boise State Saturday in its next game.