Rutgers' Run Ends with 78-55 Loss to UNC

NEW YORK -- Jonathan Mitchell scored a game-high 20 points, but it wasn't nearly enough as Rutgers fell behind early and was never really in it during a 78-55 loss to North Carolina at Madison Square Garden. The Tar Heels went ahead by double digits early and never looked back as the Scarlet Knights saw their six-game winning streak snapped.

NEW YORK – If this was supposed to be a barometer for where Rutgers stands in the Big East …well, there's a reason the Scarlet Knights were picked to finish 15th in the 16-team league.

North Carolina used superior athleticism and size inside and smart passing around the perimeter to stay two steps ahead of a Rutgers defense run ragged and were never threatened.

The Tar Heels ended Rutgers' six-game winning streak with a 78-55 pasting of the Scarlet Knights in front of 9,401 Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

It was Rutgers' fifth loss in as many seasons to the Tar Heels, and it was familiar. The first four came by an average of 28.8 points.

"It's discouraging, and at the same time it's eye-opening," Rutgers senior Jonathan Mitchell said. "We need to get better, bottom line. We've kind of been reading out press clippings too much, and maybe looking forward to the process and not putting in the work to get there."

The Tar Heels (9-4) are unranked, and now Rutgers (9-3) has five days to recover before opening Big East play Sunday at No. 8 Villanova.

During a sublime shooting first half, the Tar Heels made 56.7 percent (17 of 30) of their shots while the Scarlet Knights spent the first 10 minutes just trying to get shots off. Rutgers committed eight first-half turnovers, and trailed 42-22 at the break.

North Carolina doubled Rutgers on the boards (22-11) in the opening 20 minutes and, frankly, wasn't ahead by more because it committed nine turnovers of its own.

"You can't ever think this is what they are, that they're this inconsistent, that they're this fragile," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "I've got to make my guys tougher. I've got to make them more mentally tough. I have to make them more physically tough. I have to make them a better team, better teammates. …This team is going to get better, whether they like it or not."

From a first-possession two-on-one fast break in Rutgers point guard James Beatty threw the ball into the feet of teammate Mike Coburn, resulting in a turnover, the offense was out of sorts.

A lay-up by Dane Miller 47 seconds in make it 2-2, and Rutgers didn't score again until Austin Johnson's lay-in with 13:30 left in the half. By then, the Tar Heels led 14-4 and were well on their way.

"When you're playing against a team like North Carolina, you're playing against Big East teams, you have to bring it every night," Beatty said. "You can't do the things we did. They're just too good."

Rutgers was led in scoring by Mitchell's 20 points, but the rest of the Scarlet Knights looked bothered by the Tar Heels' bigger bodies in close and they hurried shots to get them off against a fast-closing North Carolina defense.

None of the Tar Heels starters scored in double figures, but each had at least seven points. Leslie McDonald scored 14 points off the bench, and starting center Tyler Zeller had eight points and10 rebounds. The domination took place despite North Carolina not having a full team practice since Christmas break and with Dexter Strickland being snowed in and never getting back to Chapel Hill, N.C. "We never got Dexter and never got D.J. (Johnston) back at all," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "It was difficult for us, and it was difficult for Rutgers. There were a lot of distractions for us, but life is full of distractions."

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