Late Rally Falls Short for Rutgers in Cancun

Rutgers seemingly always has a late-game rally in it this season and tonight's game in Cancun against Illinois State was no different. Ineffective for 30 minutes, the Scarlet Knights eviscerated a 13-point deficit but could not hold on for the final two minutes and lost 76-70.

The Rutgers basketball team learned just how hard it can be to win the average Division I college basketball game tonight against Illinois State in the Cancun Challenge.

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.

Rutgers then forced turnovers on three straight possessions and uses buckets from forwards Dane Miller and Gilvydas Biruta to cut it to a two-point game on an 8-0 run.

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.

Unfortunately for Rutgers, the biggest shot of the night came a minute later when Illinois State's Nic Moore hit a three of his own to take back the lead and win the game.

"[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.

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