After giving hope to salvaging the season with a strong stretch, the ugly things that plagued the Scarlet Knights during the first half of the Big East season are resurfacing.
The latest disappointment was a 76-70 loss to Seton Hall in front of 9,503 Tuesday at the Prudential Center in a game the Scarlet Knights trailed by double digits nearly the whole time, although they did cut it to four points in the closing minutes.
However, each time Rutgers entertained a comeback from as much as 18 points down, the Pirates responded with a big shot, or the Scarlet Knights made a gaffe.
Seton Hall leading scorer Jeremy Hazell was 9 of 22 from the field and finished with 25 points.
"We missed a bunch of easy lay-ups, second shot opportunity tip-ins, and you can't put yourself in a hole,'' Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "When I look at the film, I don't think I'm going to be very happy with all the two-footers, tip-ins and lay-ups that we didn't complete.''
Even with the poor short-range shooting, a free throw by Hamady Ndiaye pulled Rutgers (14-14, 4-11 Big East) within 68-64 with 2:37 to play, But the next stretch was indicative of the Scarlet Knights' uneven play.
Seton Hall guard Eugene Harvey scored on a an easy drive to the basket for a lay-in to stem the momentum, and Rutgers point guard James Beatty lost control of the ball on a pick-and-roll on the next trip up the floor, which resulted in Jeff Robinson's dunk and a 72-64 lead.
"They made two plays down the stretch and we weren't able to make them,'' Hill said. "Give them credit. Their guys made big plays in that stretch, and we came up short.''
While the comeback continued to show the Scarlet Knights' fight, it also accentuated their glaring weakness of playing poorly in the first half and having too far to climb to win.
In an atrocious first half, the Scarlet Knights' carelessness with the basketball and inability to defend allowed the Pirates (16-10, 7-8) to build a 44-29 lead.
Rutgers was 9 of 27 from the field, turned the ball over 12 times (Seton Hall turned it over once) and were beaten consistently inside as the Pirates scored 18 points in the paint and had nine points on the fast break (17 for the game).
"We gave away a lot of fast break baskets to those guys,'' Rosario said. "That really hurt us, and those guys didn't miss for the first six or seven minutes. They made every shot, basically, and when you're playing against teams like that, teams that put a lot of pressure on you, you're supposed to take your time and be poised, and I don't think we did that in the first half.''
Rutgers' problems started early as it missed three lay-ups in the first four minutes.
Like so many times in conference games, the Scarlet Knights were down double digits within seven minutes, and trailed 28-10 with 11:42 left in the first half, although this time Rutgers' inability to finish shots near the basket was its downfall.
"We were in a rush,'' Miller said. "We were too hyped for the game. We came out and were missing a lot of lay-ups, and they took advantage of it and made a lot of plays. That's all it was. We came out too energized.''
Rosario finished with 17 points on 7 of 20 shooting and Miller scored 16 points and added nine rebounds, but the duo combined for 11 of Rutgers' 16 turnovers.
Center Hamady Ndiaye added 12 points and 14 rebounds and Jonathan Mitchell scored 11 points and had 13 rebounds.
But each of Rutgers starters played at least 30 minutes, with Ndiaye logging 38, Miller 37, Mitchell 36 and Rosario 34.
"The first half we had 12 turnovers and built ourselves a 15-point (halftime) deficit,'' Mitchell said. "We took ourselves out of it. At the end o the day, we ran out of gas. We were scrambling, trying to force some turnovers, and obviously exerting a lot more energy than we expected to. You definitely feel it in your legs the last four or five minutes of the game.''