"It's very difficult to dig a hole like that, and it takes so much energy and there's really no margin for error," Scarlet Knights head coach Fred Hill said. "I'm very, very proud of the kids, and the way they battled, and the way we kept coming, and the things we did, but it's very difficult to put yourself in a 20-point hole, and think you're going to come back, and ultimately overtake a really good team and win the game."
The 81-76 final score was not as close as it indicated. No. 18 Marquette held a double-digits lead for most of the second half. The Golden Eagles connected on their opportunities, including Wesley Matthews' 10-10 shooting effort to lead all scorers with 23.
"He obviously had a great night," Hill said of the Marquette senior. "The only thing we can do is make guys take tough shots. That's our job and I thought we made him take some real tough shots and he obviously made them."
But, the Scarlet Knights competed until the final buzzer, on a cold rainy night in front of 4,112 fans.
"You get a break here or there," Hill said. "You get a stop or they miss a free throw and you got yourself a chance."
After an 0-for performance against Connecticut, freshman Mike Rosario responded with a team-high 22 points, 16 after halftime. His stroke caught fire during the period, keying a 10-0 to shrink the deficit.
"I just took my time and let the game come to me, and I knew I was going to be put in a position to make big plays," Rosario said. "I just got myself ready, and I picked my teammates up and picked myself up."
Rutgers managed to trim the lead from 21 to two points with 37 seconds left in regulation, but Marquette's held on by drilling 11 free throws down the stretch.
The first half told a different story for both teams. While Rutgers (9-7, 0-3 BIG EAST) had just faced the nation's top three teams, two conference foes, in a seven-day stretch, Marquette (14-2, 3-0 BIG EAST) had gone on a tear. The Golden Eagles had won five straight behind their depth and leadership.
Whoever defended Marquette's Dominic James had a challenging assignment. While James finished with 16 and six assists, he created mismatches with his speed and hang time.
On the other side, Rutgers' bench produced 19 points and 11 boards. But, the early struggles (17 team turnovers) that continued into after halftime put the Scarlet Knights in an unfathomable position, which they nearly overcame.
"We think we're going to win every game," Hill said. "I know it sounds like a coach's cliché."
Notes: The schedule does not get any easier for the Scarlet Knights who host their fifth straight ranked foe, the No. 11 Syracuse Orange and their 15-1 record Saturday night at the RAC. Their only loss came courtesy of Cleveland St. led by former Rutgers head coach Gary Waters. Marquette returns to Wisconsin to battle No. 25 West Virginia.
Rutgers falls to Marquette, 81-76
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