PISCATAWAY – Everyone was waiting for the run to come. It’s what Syracuse does. Mike Rice noted as such in Friday’s practice, saying that much of this game depended on how his young team would respond to Syracuse’s 8-0 run.
That run never came.
“Stay confident and limit them in transition,” Dane Miller said of limiting Syracuse’s runs. “There were times where they got a lot transition dunks because of the turnovers but basically it was just limiting the turnovers and even if they do go on a little run, we stayed focused.”
The only time the Scarlet Knights seemed to have lost their focus was on an 8-2 run to close out the half, which gave Syracuse a 40-34 lead.
But in a back and forth game Rutgers was unable to make stops when they needed it most in the 74-64 loss.
“I always think we need a stop,” Rice said when asked if his team was missing a big three-pointer down the stretch. “That’s who I am and we just didn’t get stops down the line like we needed because you’re not going to match basket for basket with Syracuse. You need to find ways and scratch and claw to stop them and we didn’t do enough.”
They also never hit the big shot to get them over the hump.
Instead it was Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine who’d hit that shot. With just 1:12 left, Jardine motioned for his teammates to clear out. He’d take Jerome Seagears one on one, nailing a three in his face to give the Orange a 69-62 lead. It was the dagger.
Despite the loss, Rice was able to find some solace in what’s been a difficult few weeks with a 1-7 stretch.
“As far as the fight and the compete, it was one of the more consistent games we’ve had in the last month,” Rice said. “Just didn’t finish plays.”
Aside from Gilvydas Biruta.
While he was expected to have a big impact this season, Biruta has struggled though the first 27 games, often being a nonfactor or nonexistent. All that changed against Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone.
“There was a Gilvydas Biruta sighting today, huh?” Rice joked. “It’s what I thought I was going to have every night to be honest with you. The moon and stars and planets lined up tonight for Gil….He had a confidence about him. Something bad is going to happen in this league. It always is. He responded.”
Biruta responded to the tune of 21 points and seven rebounds.
Able to attack the seams of the zone and find its soft spots, Biruta’s explanation for his outburst was simple.
“I was more poised,” the 6-foot-8 forward said. “I didn’t rush my shots.”
Neither did Rutgers for the most part. They’d methodically run through their offensive sets, seeming undaunted by one of the top teams in the country.
But it wasn’t enough. A valiant effort would come up short, leaving the Knights only one thing to do: move on.
“They might be the most talented team in the country,” Mike Poole said. “We fought and they’re just a great team. Can’t really hold our heads. Just got to look forward to Wednesday [at Marquette].”