Facing a 13-point deficit after an ugly 30 minutes of basketball, the Scarlet Knights decided enough was enough and nearly assembled a dramatic comeback before falling 76-70. "They kept fighting," said head coach Mike Rice on the WCTC post-game radio show. "I would have probably have liked to have that same intensity to start the game. "
Trailing 60-50 with eight minutes left, freshman guard Elijah Carter made it a seven-point deficit with a long jumper.
After four minutes of back-and-forth action, Miller hit the second biggest shot of the night. Miller drained a three-pointer with three minutes on the clock to give Rutgers its first lead of the half.
"[Illinois State] did a great job of seeing something in our defense and kind of attacking," Rice said. "Our help was always so late and we were just behind in the possessions. They either banged a three or we fouled. We played the way I would like to play for about a seven-minute stretch, but that's not going to win many games."
Biruta had a game he will try to forget. Before fouling out in the final minutes, Biruta missed all five of his free throws. Foul shots were a crushing blow for Rutgers, making just 8-of-18 in comparison to 28-for-38 for Illinois State.
Rutgers had another sluggish first half, consistently trailing Illinois State by a handful of points. The Scarlet Knights could not find the basket, but forced low-percentage shots on the defensive end and held the Redbirds to 32 percent in the half.
Freshman guard Myles Mack scored the last three points of the half and had a team-high six points with Rutgers trailing by a point at the break.
Mack scored 10 points in a solid defensive effort, but shot just 30 percent from the floor. The other freshman guards, Carter and Jerome Seagears, combined for another 19 points.
Rutgers (3-2) returns to the court tomorrow to face the loser of Richmond and Illinois in the final day of the Cancun Challenge.