Rutgers beats Drexel, 58-56, at the buzzer

Rutgers was hampered by terrible foul shooting (16 of 35) but was able to fight through for an imporant early-season, confidence-building win when sophomore center Greg Echenique hit a driving lay-in at the buzzer. Echenique finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Sophomore center Greg Echenique was unstoppable all night, other than when a bump to his right shoulder sent him to the bench midway through the second half, so it made sense for him to have the ball.

Even if there were only 1.9 seconds, which felt like 4.9, remaining, and the score tied.

Echenique caught James Beatty's in-bounds pass at the elbow, quickly moved to his left and drove to the basket, flicking the ball with his left hand beat the buzzer and Drexel, lifting the Scarlet Knights to an unaesthetic but important 58-56 win Friday in the opener of the Legends Classic.

"That's exactly how it's supposed to go,'' Hill said. "Believe me, you draw them up all the time as a coach and they rarely go exactly how it's supposed to go. That's a play that we practiced, that we have in for end-of-game situations, and it worked to perfection.''

Echenique said the speed at which the play developed fooled him.

"(Beatty) got the ball, he threw it, and I wasn't expecting it to be that fast,'' Echenique said. "When I got it, it just happened. I'm not going to lie to you and say that I knew what I was going to do. I had a play in my mind, but it didn't go that way, so I just tried to go with my left hand, which was working today.

"The guy that was guarding me was a little slower than I was, and I used that to my advantage.''

The basket capped not only an uneven performance from Echenique, but for the Scarlet Knights. Echenique had 16 points and 14 rebounds in 27 minutes, but was part of Rutgers' free throw pandemic. He was 2 of 8 from the free throw line, while the Scarlet Knights (2-0) were 16 of 35.

Even worse, Rutgers was 8 of 24 from the line in the second half.

"When you start missing them, it's contagious,'' Hill said. "There's going to be a night where we shoot 85 percent. It's contagious. We talk about that all the time because it's such a mental thing. Tonight, we were on the bad side of contagious. Hopefully, it's an aberration and we forget about it.''

The free throw shooting was horrid, but Rutgers' offense did grind its way to shoot 45.5 percent from the field.

Sophomore guard Mike Rosario had 13 points and junior point guard Mike Coburn added 11 points. But unlike the season-opening win against Marist where ball movement led to easy baskets and a bevy of assists, Rutgers had seven assists and 15 turnovers.

"This (win) says a lot about our team,'' Rosario said. "We have a lot of leadership now, and we trust each other, and that's how you win games.''

However, where the aesthetics lacked on offense, the defense played markedly better than in the opener.

There was more energy, better rotation and help and a concerted effort to challenge shots. It also helped offensively-challenged Drexel (0-3) shot 37.7 percent from the field in its first two games, and missed its share of open shots en route to shooting 26.6 percent (17 of 64) from the field.

But the Dragons made up for the offensive malaise with moxie attacking the offensive boards.

They parlayed 18 offensive rebounds into 22 second-chance points, which enabled them to stay within striking distance.

"I'll tell you what I'm most proud of, besides the last play, is our defense,'' Hill said. "We didn't defend in the last game. I think we took a major step forward.''

Rutgers didn't trail in the final 37 minutes, but also couldn't sustain a large lead. Several times the Scarlet Knights stretched the lead to seven points, the last being 45-38 with 12:18 to play, but the problems at the line nearly cost them.

As the missed free throws mounted – Rutgers missed 16 of its last 20 attempts – the Dragons kept nipping away. Finally, Yannick Formbor scored on a put-back with 12 seconds remaining to tie it 56-56.

"We had guys foul out, we shot 26 percent from the field and we lost the game with 1.9 seconds left,'' Drexel coach James "Bruiser'' Flint said. "I mean, what do you say?''

And even the last 12 seconds were difficult for Rutgers. Rather than call timeout, Hill elected to let the Scarlet Knights run the offense, until Rosario fumbled the ball near three-quarters court. Hill got the timeout, then diagramed the play for Echenique.

But Hill's concern wasn't if there was enough time remaining for Echenique to run the game-winning play.

"I was concerned when we couldn't put the fork in the loose basketball bouncing around at the end of the game,'' Hill said. "I knew we had enough time to run our end-of-game side out-of-bounds play.''

After losing too many of these games in recent years, Rutgers will take the win, even if parts of it were hard to watch.

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