PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Mike Rice’s goal of a “winning February” more than fell short and ended with a sloppy 76-72 loss to Providence in front of a deflated RAC crowd.
Instead of pushing for the post season, Rutgers went 1-5 and lost its leading scorer for the season with a fractured fibula.
Sinking to the .500 mark for the first time Since November, Rutgers on its way to another March with little meaning to its fan base.
In Rice’s words, Rutgers is losing its edge.
“I don’t know if it’s feeling sorry for themselves about what happened on the offensive end, [we] were just completely losing that edge,” Rice said. “… Tonight it cost us the game.”
Rutgers (13-13, 4-11) followed its same formula of pushing for a comeback but falling short in the final minutes.
Where Rutgers missed free throws and was slow to get back on defense, the Providence guards took over and asserted their will on the Scarlet Knights.
Highlighted by a slashing layup from Vincent Council to close the door, the Friars’ guards efficiently closed out the game.
“They finished the game and we didn’t,” Rice said. “We blinked.”
The Scarlet Knights inspired hope multiple times, including an 11-point lead midway through the first half. The lead, however, collapsed with a 19-0 run by Providence to close the half with a nine-point lead.
Rutgers threatened in the second half and tied the game at 52 apiece, but seven quick points from the Friars closed the door.
Senior forward Dane Miller had one of his better offensive performances of the season with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Sophomore Kadeem Jack continued his improved play in the paint with 15 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.
“None of that matters when we lose,” Jack said. “We fought back from that [19-0] run, but then we didn’t finish. That hurts.”
The Scarlet Knights get a much-needed break before starting the final portion of the season. When Rutgers returns to action Saturday night at the Verizon Center needing a win over Georgetown to stay afloat.
The loss locks Rutgers into the bottom quarter of the Big East tournament bracket, meaning the Scarlet Knights play Tuesday night in the first round at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m not thinking about it,” Rice said. “I’d like to rip my eyes right now from the loss.”