The Scarlet Knights played with passion, gave a tremendous effort and showed plenty of fight in rallying from a 14-point deficit in the first before falling to well-drilled and sharp-shooting Princeton 78-73 in overtime in the season opener for both teams Friday in front of 3,530 at Jadwin Gym.
Rutgers played an inspired second half of defense and led late, but couldn't pull out the win when Dane Miller was called for a charge with 1.9 seconds left in regulation.
The Tigers went 8 for 8 from the free throw line in overtime for the win, but it was Miller's drive and charge and coach Mike Rice's decision to switch to a 2-3 zone defense on a key possession late in regulation that had the Scarlet Knights discussing regrets.
"We're going to play close games, and to be honest with you I'm still learning," said Rice, who was making his Rutgers coaching debut. "I'm still figuring out, as the close games happen, who we should go to, and which plays we should run, and what concepts to do. So, I take a little fault in this because maybe my play calling in the end should have been better."
Miller, who got the ball at the top of the arc with six seconds left, penetrated the lane and had to decide whether to pass to Austin Johnson underneath or shoot a floater. He did neither and was whistled for a charge with the score 65-65.
"In my mind, I had two plays," Miller said. "I just didn't make my mind up. By the time I did, it was a charge."
Still, Rutgers managed to rally from a 37-23 with four minutes left in the first half despite an off night from senior power forward Jonathan Mitchell, and an inauspicious debut from freshman center Gilvydas Biruta.
Mitchell was 1 for 11 from the field and scored six points and also turned the ball over four times. He did grab a team-leading eight rebounds.
Biruta, who started, scored one point, had two rebounds and fouled out in 13 minutes. However, point guard James Beatty was strong in defeat, and despite painful cramps. He scored 15 points, including making 4 of 6 from 3-point range, and had four assists and no turnovers. Freshman Mike Poole had 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench, Miller added 13 points and Mike Coburn had 10.
"It felt like a regular basketball game," Poole said. "I've played basketball since I was five, and this felt normal."
Princeton was led in scoring by Don Mavraides' 26 points, making 6 of 10 3-point attempts. His biggest came with Princeton up a point with 1:36 left in overtime. The Tigers reversed the ball against Rutgers' 2-3 zone to get it to a wide open Mavraides as Princeton went ahead 72-68.
"We were in man at that point when Mavraides hit the shot in the corner," Rice said. "We didn't adjust perfectly, and that's my fault. It should have never been called. We should have just stayed man, because our man was good."