Leading scorer Mike Rosario was late to the team shootaround, and his punishment was a seat on the bench for the game's start.
Rutgers was a 3-pointer away from being tied at the half, but never found the rhythm it enjoyed the last three weeks.
Instead, silly turnovers, poor perimeter shooting and a woeful second-half display on the boards led to a disappointing performance in a highly anticipated game as the Scarlet Knights fell to UConn 76-58 in front of 8,085 at the soldout RAC on Saturday.
Rutgers had won five of six, but lost for the 16th time in 17 outings against the Huskies in Big East play.
"You have to learn how to handle success,'' Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "It's different than handling adversity, and I think our guys have done a great job of handling adversity. I think they've been phenomenal. But now we've had success.
"(Winning) five out of six games is success, and it's different. People are different, they talk to you different, they treat you different. They blow you up. They put stuff in your head, and that's a different experience. You've got to learn how to handle that.''
Rosario scored 14 points in 31 minutes before fouling out with 1:43 remaining. He overslept and was four minutes late to the shootaround, and agreed with the punishment.
"I really thought that was a great decision on coach's behalf because in this world, a lot of things are not given to you,'' Rosario said. "Coach talked to our leaders this morning about the situation, and I apologized to my team. I felt I deserved to come off the bench.''
The interesting thing now will be how the Scarlet Knights (14-13, 4-10 Big East) rebound Tuesday in Newark against Seton Hall. It is a crucial game if Rutgers is to become eligible for the NIT.
"We have to put this one behind,'' said Rutgers center Hamady Ndiaye, who scored 13 points, had seven rebounds and blocked five shots. "This one is over with. We have to forget about it.''
Since beating Notre Dame on Jan. 30, Rutgers had played well – the win against Division II Caldwell College aside – and, more importantly, smart.
But against the Huskies, Rutgers forced passes, both inside to center Hamady Ndiaye and along the wings in trying to get out on fast breaks.
Rebounding was also an issue, and nowhere was that more evident than in the opening seven minutes of the second half. The Huskies (16-11, 6-8) out-rebounded Rutgers 15-2 during a 20-6 spurt, and the Scarlet Knights added to the woes by going 2 for 9 from the field and 1 for 6 from free throw line.
It enabled UConn to transform a 31-28 halftime lead to a 51-34 cushion midway through the second half.
"You have to give it to them credit in the second half,'' Hill said. "They took it to us on the glass. They really did a good job, and we couldn't knock down shots.''
After holding a 23-18 rebounding advantage at the half, Rutgers was outrebounded 23-12 in the final 20 minutes. "I think it was our inability to make shots.'' Hill said. "No matter what you talk about, and how you try to get it across, it affects your defensive intensity, to a certain level. They stepped it up a notch …and then we weren't able to score in the second half.'' The Scarlet Knights also lacked patience offensively, and rather than work to move the ball, often settled for perimeter jumpers.
Rutgers attempted 21 3-point shots, and couldn't survive an off afternoon from second-leading scorer Jonathan Mitchell.
He entered the day shooting 44.6 percent from 3-point range in conference play, but was 2 of 9 behind the arc and finished with six points. Rutgers finished 10 of 20 from the free throw line.
"Certainly, we knew (Mitchell) would get his looks, the way they play ball screen defense,'' Hill said. "We just needed him to knock them down, and he just didn't have one of those nights.''
"I think Rutgers, with the loss of one player (Ndiaye), can be very good,'' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said of next year's squad. "They just have to get a center, and some confidence.''