For the Friars, returning home to the warmth and coziness of the Dunk after two excruciating losses on the road, proved to be the cure for what ailed them. In front of 10,397 fans on Alumni Weekend, the Friars pushed past the Scarlet Knights, in what could prove to be a costly win.
Personnel-wise, PC was already shorthanded, and that could get worse… but more on that later. Chuck Burch was a DNP due to a back injury that was retweaked against Louisville. Dwain Williams returned to campus later than expected from a friend's funeral in California, and was limited to four minutes, mostly to give Sharaud Curry a brief rest.
This was a game that PC was never in danger of losing… but was never comfortably in the win column until the end. PC raced out to a 12-2 lead on the strength of three Herbert Hill baskets, and after Rutgers went on a run to cut the lead to 14-11 on an Anthony Farmer (16 points) three, PC spurted again, this time opening a 26-11 advantage. The Friars maintained a double digit lead until Marquis Webb (17 points) nailed a three with twenty seven seconds left to send PC to the lockerroom with a 31-22 lead.
In the first half, PC shot only 40% from the floor and 50% from the foul line, and couldn't quite put the Knights away. However, the Friars were dominating the paint and had scored 15 points off turnovers to Rutgers' zero.
The second half saw Rutgers cut the lead to 45-37 with 11:51 left on free throws by Farmer, but that was as close as they would come. Free throws and a hoop by Hill pushed PC's lead to double digits again, and Rutgers would never see a single digit deficit again. Sloppiness and rushed shots by the Friars allowed Rutgers to get within 67-57 with 2:25 to go, but just when the fans started getting a little antsy, Geoff McDermott (19 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) soared high above the rim for a monstrous dunk and free throw that iced the game.
For the Friars, the final two minutes should have been garbage time, but it didn't turn out that way. With 1:53 to go, and PC nursing a 70-59 lead, Weyinmi Efejuku ran out for what would be a layup or dunk, and while in the air, was grabbed by both shoulders by center Frank Russell and thrown to the ground under the basket.
As the officials signaled an intentional foul, Efejuku lay unmoving on his side under the basket, surrounded by PC's medical staff and players. He finally was helped to his feet and to the Friar lockerroom. After the game, word on his injury was not good.
"Weyinmi is lying on his stomach in the lockerroom with an ice pack on his back," said Tim Welsh when asked about Efejuku's condition. "He fell on the exact same spot as the Seton Hall game. It's his tailbone. Against Seton Hall, it was a bang-bang play and he got bumped and fell. This happened because of stupidity. I think this foul warrants a suspension. It was purposely trying to hurt someone. Fred (Hill) apologized to me after the game, and I know he doesn't coach like that. It's unfortunate because as of lunch yesterday, I didn't think Weyinmi would play, but he improved and the MRI was fine. Now I guess we have to have another MRI."
On the bright side, Herbert Hill continues to be an unstoppable monster for any team with an undermanned frontcourt. Hill had 20 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks, including several thunderous dunks. "Herb has to be the focal point of our offense," said Welsh. "He's a beast down there, he's rebounding the ball, blocking shots. He now believes and knows that he can be one of the best players in the league. We have to be balanced though, we can't just throw the ball in to Herb every time. We have to find different ways to keep him in the flow."
Sharaud Curry started slowly, forcing some bad threes in the first half, but played appreciably better in the second half. Curry finished with 13 points and only two turnovers. "The second half was terrific for Sharaud," Welsh commented. "It was his first home game since coming back, and I think he was pressing in the first half."
On the plus side of the ledger, PC conquered their turnover problems that had plagued them in the Louisville and Seton Hall losses, at least for this game. The Friars had only nine turnovers and valued the ball much better. "We shoot 50% for the year, so when you have 46 turnovers in two games, you're giving away a lot of points," said Welsh.
On the negative side, PC shot only 4-13 from three point range, and the Friars have struggled recently with their outside shooting. Add to that, seven missed free throws, and PC has to do a better job from the charity stripe. Overall, though, PC shot a sizzling 63% in the second half, racked up 47 second half points, and played reasonably solid defense. The Friars will need to pick it up, though, as Villanova comes to town on Tuesday and hope for the best with Weyinmi.
Fred Hill made his name as a recruiter for Seton Hall and Villanova and he will need to work his recruiting magic to transform Rutgers. The Knights are woefully thin up front, and his recruits so far include more guards, but little beef... PC wore their "silver" uniforms... Jamine "Greedy" Peterson and a number of prep players, in town for a tournament, took in the game.
Friars Right The Ship Against Rutgers
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