PISCATAWAY, N.J. – In the final Big East game at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, Rutgers summed up its season well in another blown lead and loss to a ranked opponent.
Leading by as many as 12 points against No. 15 Marquette, the Scarlet Knights collapsed in the second half and sent a small crowd home disappointed on Senior Night. With a 60-54 final, Rutgers dropped another game below .500 and is on a five-game losing streak for the second time this year.
“Guys are just sick to their stomachs,” said senior forward Austin Johnson. “They’re going to anything they can to get the ball moving back in the right direction.”
Rutgers had two chances to tie the game late after blowing a double-digit lead. The first ended in two missed free throws from Dane Miller in his final game at the RAC.
Then in the final 25 seconds, Rutgers could not even get a shot off in a two-point game, tripping over the basketball and sending it Marquette’s way to ice the game.
“There was a lot of hurt and disappointed individuals in that locker room,” said head coach Mike Rice. “I told them they deserve to be happy for how hard they worked without any results, how hard they keep practicing for each other for the staff.
“You look out there sometimes, even in practice, you get so excited because we’re so close at certain aspects and then, this team won’t quit. I give them a lot of credit for that. After a long, hard season they keep at it.”
It was not a senior night to remember for Miller, who chose to come off the bench instead of being a part of the starting lineup. Miller finished with just five points, committing a costly last-minute turnover and missing key free throws down the stretch.
Losers of 11 out of their last 12 games, Rutgers blew leads in losses to No. 7 Georgetown, No. 15 Marquette, No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 23 Cincinnati.
“It’s the same story,” Miller said. “It happens every year, every time, mostly every game, so there’s nothing you can do.”
Rutgers (13-15, 4-11) remains locked into the bottom four when the Big East tournament begins next week with Friday’s game against 12th-place Seton Hall to play a key role in the seeding. At this point, Rutgers is expected to need at least two Big East tournament wins to push for a postseason appearance.
“There is no quit in that locker room,” Rice said. “Maybe part of my emotion is just for my seniors. They certainly two years ago could have left for greener pastures. But they stuck around and fought and scratched. … They kept with it. They kept fighting. This team, I still think, they have some fight in them.”