The energy Rutgers hoped the RAC would bring didn't provide a lift big enough to overcome silly turnovers, poor shooting and a general lack of concentration to the details.
So, the most anticipated Rutgers basketball game in the last few years ended with an emotionally zapped team remembering they are still fighting for postseason life, and heading into a week-long break with a 69-64 loss to the rival Pirates in front of 8,057 Saturday on their minds.
Rutgers (13-12, 4-9 Big East) couldn't muster the magic of a few nights earlier when it stunned Villanova, and now need to win three of its final five to ensure a winning record and a possible NIT berth.
"You finally get people to say nice things about you, and this is how you respond," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "So, it's very disappointing as far as that goes. Build a little bit of momentum, and didn't have any fight. Didn't have much fight at all."
Rutgers trailed much of the game, and each time it got close the Scarlet Knights were unable to sustain the energy it took to get there.
Trailing by seven at the half, Rutgers came out of the locker room with 8-0 run, only to see the Pirates (11-14, 5-8) turn around and score 12 of the next 14 points and push the lead to 46-37 with 11:05 to play.
And when Rutgers cut the nine-point deficit to 54-53 with 3:39 remaining, the Pirates answered with five straight points as the Scarlet Knights had no one who could stop Jordan Theodore's dribble penetration (7 of 9, 18 points).
"We didn't come out and compete," Rutgers point guard James Beatty said. "We didn't do the things that we practice. We didn't do the things we want to do to execute and win. We didn't buy into our game plan and it cost us."
Jonathan Mitchell scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and Gilvydas Biruta finished with 18 points. The two were 16 of 24 from the field while the rest of the Scarlet Knights were 7 of 29 and accounted for 22 points.
"This one hurts because we could have put ourselves in a nice position with five Big East wins," Mitchell said. "But we just got in our way. Eighteen turnovers. Guys kinda played out of character. We can't do that. Our margin for error is so small."
Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell finished with 19 points, including the 2,000th of his career, but got most of them from the free throw line (8 of 9).
"A lot of the game I didn't recognize the team that was out on the floor, to be honest with you," Rice said. "We just made some of the mistakes we made the first week of practice. Offensively, I thought we held the ball too long. …And defensively, there were some bad decisions. Whether it was bad help, undisciplined, it was a very poor performance."