NEW YORK -- All of the intensity and execution Rutgers brought to the Big East tournament did not show its face in day two at Madison Square Garden until it was way too late. Just 22 hours after one of the most complete games of the year, the Scarlet Knights did not have enough to put Notre Dame on upset alert.
Rutgers brought the same hunger in day two in a 69-61 loss to the Fighting Irish in the final Big East game for the Scarlet Knights. The only problem was the response showed up about 20 minutes too late.
“We just didn’t play two halves,” said Rutgers coach Mike Rice. “… When they did respond, that was the Rutgers that we had seen through the last month. It just took too long. Notre Dame is too good of a team.”
Fourteen points behind at the half, Rutgers fought until the final buzzer but was in too deep of a hole to make a major difference. Rutgers shot 29.6 percent in the first half and took way too long to figure out why.
After junior Wally Judge made all nine of his shots against DePaul, he shot 1-for-6 against Notre Dame and played just 15 minutes. The offense, instead, flowed through senior Austin Johnson, who logged the best half of his career.
Led by Johnson, Rutgers inspired hope with nine straight points to start the second half, but a solid half was not enough to make up for what went wrong early.
Cutting the 14-point deficit to five points with 14 minutes left, Notre Dame let Rutgers hang around but did what ranked teams are supposed to do against lower seeds.
“I think there was no better place to cap off your college career than playing at the Garden,” said Johnson, who had a career-high 18 points. “Everything hit me when I was walking off the court. I knew I would never step back into a game and it was my last time playing with these guys possibly.”
Ruggers kept taking shots at a lead that sunk to as low as five points, but free throws became the difference-maker. Though Irish forward Jerian Grant officially ended it with a fast-break slam with 48 seconds left, shooting 7-for-8 from the free throw line in the last five minutes let them pull away.
Rice said that his program is undecided regarding postseason bids and will spend the week trying to do research to figure out the best option.
“We’ll discuss some things,” Rice said. “I know some of the secondary tournaments had called and gauged our interest, and that’s something we’ll look at as a program.”