Rutgers got the positioning it wanted -- up by three points on Connecticut early in the second half in front of a sellout. Rutgers had star Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier struggling.
But just as Rutgers cooled off from eight straight points, Napier took over to lead the Huskies to a 82-71 win at the RAC.
“We had to almost play a perfect game,” said coach Eddie Jordan. “… When a great player opens the floor up like that, a great player does his thing, it’s very frustrating. The frustration got to us a little bit and we didn’t keep our poise.”
A combination of Jerome Seagears and Myles Mack held Napier to 1-of-6 shooting and six points in the first half. In the second half, Rutgers wasn’t nearly as successful and Napier led a closing stretch.
“If you have a great player like that, open the floor up and let him do his thing,” Jordan said. “He got it cooking. It’s a hard thing to guard. He’s a good passer. He sees the floor. He’s an assassin.”
Seagears sparked Rutgers off the bench tying the team high with 19 points and six assists. He made the three-pointer to put Rutgers ahead 42-41 early in the second half, and helped make up for an off night by Mack.
Rutgers (8-12, 2-5) saw a bounce-back game from junior Kadeem Jack in its third consecutive conference loss. Jack put up 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Equally important, Jack shot 11-for-14 from the free throw line, and stayed out of foul trouble.
“It definitely was [a challenge to answer],” Jack said. “I feel like all of the guys came out and they played hard. They played hard also, and they got the edge on us tonight.”
Last-place Temple (5-12, 0-6) is next up for Rutgers in Philadelphia. The Scarlet Knights started American Athletic Conference play with a 71-66 victory over the Owls.