Rutgers entered the game just 1-10 in the Big East, but had played a number of conference foes close and tough. The squad that PC would be facing was a banged up one, though. Two starters were out of the lineup – freshman Mike Rosario, the team's leading scorer, with a sore ankle, and 6-11 junior center Hamady N'diaye, an imposing shot blocker, with a strained back.
Both teams started slowly on offense, but Rutgers missed all but one of its first twelve shots and trailed by just 8-2 after six minutes. Providence began to heat up, though, as the Friars looked to run and the Knights failed to get back on defense. PC opened up a 22-8 lead on two three pointers and a layup by Weyinmi Efejuku and layups by Randall Hanke and Jeff Xavier.
As the half wound down, the Friars kept pouring it on, repeatedly beating Rutgers to the rim. Layups by Marshon Brooks, Sharaud Curry and Brian McKenzie opened a commanding 42-20 lead with 2:25 to play. From there, Rutgers settled down, led by Mike Coburn, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, and trimmed the lead to a still imposing sixteen, at 44-28 at the half.
In the first half, PC had hit 51% of its shots, had 12 assists to just 6 turnovers, and was led by Efejuku, who poured in 14 points on 6-8 shooting, including 2-3 threes. PC was also a perfect 5-5 from the free throw line.
The second half started much the same way as the first, with both teams struggling to score. Six minutes in, however, with PC holding a 53-35 lead, Rutgers began to make its move, starting with a dunk by J.R. Inman and two quick missed shots by Brooks. Over the next eight minutes, the Scarlet Knights ripped off a 19-3 run, keyed by Earl Pettis and Jaron Griffin three pointers. On the Friar side of the ball, quick one shot possessions and missed free throws contributed to the Rutgers' run, and PC's lead was just 56-54 with 7:52 to play. PC's season long problem of putting teams away after building big leads was showing up again.
"It's easy when you're up 15, 16 points to not play the same way," said Keno Davis. "That's kind of been our m.o. a little bit. We haven't been able to knock teams out like you would like. That's the negative side. On the positive side, we've been able to win those games. We've been able to hold on at the end. We need to keep attacking the basket, not just taking the first shot available. And it was available because Rutgers was making it available. They wanted us to take those shots and we obliged and shot some of them. Their game plan was good with man to man on our three guards and zone with the other two and it disrupted some of what we wanted to do. It's unique, we haven't seen it all year."
Two quick layups by Hanke helped the Friars maintain the lead but Griffin answered with another three and when Griffin tipped in a miss at the rim over Hanke with four minutes left, Rutgers was within 61-60. After a layup by Brooks and two free throws by Rosario, Curry nailed a quick, catch and shoot three and then a free throw for a 67-62 lead. A Curry steal led to an Efejuku drive and high arcing layup, and a Geoff McDermott free throw after a Pettis missed layup opened a 70-62 lead with 1:41 left.
Another steal by Curry resulted in two Brooks' free throws, and despite fouling by Rutgers, and a number of missed free throws by the Friars in the last minute, PC was not challenged again as free throws by Curry, Brooks and Efejuku sealed the win.
For the game, Providence did not shoot particularly well. The Friars hit 43% from the floor, 26% from three and were just 19-32 (59%) from the charity stripe. Meanwhile Rutgers had far fewer opportunities at the line but knocked down 14-18 free throws, and battled PC evenly on the boards (42-40). Part of the reason for PC's struggle on offense was McDermott's ineffectiveness on the offensive end (1-6 shooting, 3 points) that resulted in stretches during the second half when the Knights made their comeback with him on the bench. McDermott was strong otherwise, though, with 12 rebounds and 6 assists. "Geoff is finding ways to help us win games even when he's not shooting the way he would like," said Davis. Efejuku finished with 25 points, while Curry and Brooks chipped in 12 apiece.
"I'd give Rutgers credit for making that run on us," said Davis. "It would be easy when you're struggling like they have been, and you get down 16, 17 points to fold the tents. But if anything, they played harder during that stretch when we were struggling with some things. On the positive side, I told the team afterward, that was a tough game to win when all the momentum was going in the other direction. We've had that a few times this year. We've been able to hold out and get wins, so they shouldn't be disappointed with giving up the lead, they should be proud of making the big plays down the stretch, because Rutgers had all the momentum."
"We've been talking all year about improving as a team, and the best time to improve is when you win, and yet you see some deficiencies that you can improve upon. And Rutgers definitely pointed out some in that second half. I didn't get frustrated in the Syracuse game where Jonny Flynn just scored on us. But you get frustrated when guys have wide open shots. That's just a breakdown in your defense and Rutgers just had too many of them in that stretch. They knocked down some, if they had knocked down others it could have been different."
Now the Friars have some time to work on things before invading Louisville for a key league game Wednesday evening at 7:30.
Providence Survives Rutgers, 78-68
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