So after playing a dismal first half, which included 10 turnovers and an 11-point halftime deficit, Rutgers opened the second half with its most impressive stretch of the Big East season.
The Scarlet Knights scored the first 12 points of the second half to kick-start a 30-7 run en route to a 71-62 defeat of Big East conference doormat DePaul in front of 4,712 Saturday at the RAC. The win stopped a two-game losing streak, and also leaves Rutgers (15-14, 5-11 Big East) in an intriguing position with two regular season games remaining.
But perhaps the best sign for the Scarlet Knights, who won for the fifth time in the last eight conference games and sent the Blue Demons (8-20, 1-15) to their 10th straight defeat, was the disappointing in how they played for 20 minutes. No longer is a win so foreign they overlook shortcoming.
"We always play 30 minutes. We refuse to put 40 minutes together,'' Rutgers point guard James Beatty said. "In the first half, you see signs of us getting it together. Once we put those 40 minutes together, I don't think anybody will be able to beat us.''
At least Rutgers' second half against DePaul was a doozy.
Mike Rosario scored 19 of his game-high 24 points after intermission, when DePaul was content to leave him open in transition, and failed to fight through screens in the half-court.
Rosario made 7 of 8 shots after intermission, and was a driving force during Rutgers' game-turning run. He scored 12 points, on four 3-pointers, as the Scarlet Knights pushed their lead to 56-44 with 9:04 to play.
"I think we did a great job with the press in the second half because we built up momentum and got them playing fast,'' Rosario said. "That was helping us, and creating turnovers and run-outs for us. I really think that helped me get my shot going in the second half.''
DePaul was led in scoring by Mac Koshwal's 20 points. Leading scorer Will Walker, who as averaging 16.6 points per game, finished with eight points on 3 for 14 shooting.
"I think we need to do a better job of coming out with the right mindset from the jump, mentally'' Mitchell said. "I think physically we're there. …Individually, and as a team, we have to take care of the ball more. If we do that, I think we'll have a chance against anybody.''
Rutgers' tenor after the game was the poor first half in which the Blue Demons grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and shot 48.5 percent en route to taking a 37-26 lead.
The Scarlet Knights have had difficulty in the first half throughout the Big East season, and this was no different as sloppy play, poor shooting and general disinterest led to a 25-11 deficit with 10:23 remaining.
"I told them (at halftime) to make up their minds on whether they want to let this team come in here and take one away from them,'' Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "We didn't have the life and energy you always want. We didn't rebound. We didn't do anything that we worked on for the last two days.''
Hill also changed defenses, implementing a full court press to force the tempo, and make the Scarlet Knights more active in their zone defense.
It worked wonderfully as the Scarlet Knights harried DePaul, which missed 10 of its first 11 shots of the half, and also turned the ball over three times.
"I pressed for energy,'' Hill said. "I wanted to get us going and get us running. I think you can see the difference when we're running and Mike's getting out on the wing. He's terrific in transition, but to do that you have to rebound the basketball. We didn't rebound the basketball in the first half very well.''
Rosario made a pair of 3-pointers in transition, and Beatty's 3-pointer from the right corner gave the Scarlet Knights the lead for good, 43-30, with 16:10 to play.
A lay-in by Austin Johnson put Rutgers ahead 50-42, and Beatty capped the 30-7 run with a 3-pointer to make it 56-44 with 9:04 remaining.
DePaul trimmed the lead 62-58 on Jeremiah Kelly's 3-pointer with 2:11 left, but Rosario's 14-foot jumper on the next position settled the Scarlet Knights down.
"We talked about them going on a run at halftime, (and) they scored first and it's unacceptable,'' DePaul interim coach Tracy Webster said. "You have to get stops. We discussed that the first four minutes of the second half were going to be crucial. It just has to continue to keep meaning something to everyone.''