The Rutgers-led Ned Stevens Gutter Cleaners trailed by 21 points at the half and 26 early in the third quarter, then rallied and had a chance to force overtime.
However, Elijah Carter's open 3-pointer just before the buzzer missed badly and the Scarlet Knights contingent lost to Larson Ford 103-100 Monday and eliminated in the first round of the playoffs at the Verizon Fios Jersey Shore Basketball League.
Myles Mack led the comeback and finished with 26 points while Carter, who missed part of the fourth quarter with a right leg injury, returned in the final minute and scored 24 points.
"It was a good pass, I was open," Carter said. "I just didn't make it."
The Gutter Cleaners finished 5-6, but played well after an 0-3 start. They played the final game without Greg Lewis, Malick Kone and Jerome Seagears, each of whom returned to their Washington, D.C.-area homes because their summer school sessions ended, which means Rutgers cannot pay for room and board to have them stay on campus.
"They didn't have anywhere to stay so they went back home," Rutgers junior center Austin Johnson said. "They were in a certain (academic) program and it ended, it's too far of a ride to come for the game."
The uniqueness of the entry allowed nine Rutgers players to participate on one team because seven of them – Carter, Mack, Lewis, Kone, Seagears, Derrick Randall, Wally Judge – are yet to play for the Scarlet Knights, which enables them to join the NCAA limit of two players per summer league team.
However, even short-handed, the Scarlet Knights contingent found a way to battle back from early defensive malaise and offensive ineffectiveness to make the second-half run.
After Larson Ford took a 72-46 early in the third quarter, the Gutter Cleaners rallied, spear-headed by a Carter steal and lay-in and a 3-pointer. A Carter free throw and a put-back by Johnson pulled the Scarlet Knights within 82-76 at the end of the third quarter.
Larson Ford stretched its lead to 11 early in the fourth quarter, but a Mack basket and free throw cut it to 99-97 with 2:16 left.
"Everybody left," Johnson said. "Everybody thought we were done (at the half). I thought for sure we were going to win that game. I think everyone got sick of being embarrassed. It was embarrassing. We didn't want to go out like that, so we told everyone we had to come out and play hard."
Carter, who said he had a "terrible" leg cramp, had a chance to force overtime, but he missed an open 3-pointer and the Gutter Cleaners' were ousted from the playoffs.
"We can't let teams pressure us in the beginning like that and try to come back," Mack said. "It's going to be hard for (Rutgers) to come back like that in the Big East because all the teams are good."