NEW YORK — The Rutgers basketball team mimicked its first game against Villanova by putting up one strong half and an abysmal one in a loss to the Wildcats.
Falling 70-49 to Villanova at Madison Square Garden in the first round of the Big East Tournament, Rutgers scored just 15 second-half points after shooting the lights out in the first half.
“It was a ton of missed layups and opportunities,” said head coach Mike Rice. “That and the execution wasn’t there. ... I couldn’t reel them back in after the huddles. It just kept snowballing.”
The Scarlet Knights led by four after the first half, but could not find the basket against the tough zone defense of the Wildcats in the second half. Rutgers went from shooting 43 percent and 64 from long range in the first to making just three field goals in the final 20 minutes.
Elijah Carter led Rutgers in scoring in the final game of his freshman season. The regular-season leading scorer put up a team-high 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting.
“[I learned] how hard you have to work to compete at this level,” Carter said. “To be a good team in the Big East, you have to work pretty hard.”
Junior forward Dane Miller contributed seven points and five rebounds, good for second best in each category.
“I have a lot of respect for those guys being young guys,” said Villanova guard Maalik Wayns, who led all scorers with 28 points. “I think they’re going to be great in this league.”
As ugly as things looked in the second half for Rutgers, Rice had his players ready to go to start the game.
The Rutgers team that came out of the locker room five days ago was nowhere to be found to start tonight’s game at the Garden.
After giving up 48 points and shooting 34 percent in the first half at the RAC, Rutgers shot the lights out in the first half with seven three-pointers on 11 attempts. Trailing by 16 five days ago, Rutgers led 34-30 over the Wildcats at halftime thanks to 15 from Carter.
Finishing below .500 on the year and 6-13 in conference games, the Rutgers basketball season is over. Villanova moves on to face South Florida in the second round with Rutgers headed home to Piscataway returning its entire roster of scholarship players.
“We made some mental errors that led to their wide open looks in the paint,” Rice said. “It snowballed from there. A young team may not have responded as well as I would like. Learn from it, hopefully use it as inspiration in the spring and the summer.”