A month ago they were virtually an afterthought. Now thanks to a 71-47 victory at Seton Hall, and losses by Marquette and Louisville, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will travel to Hartford and enter the Big East Tournament as a number four seed.
The game at Walsh Gym on the Seton Hall campus on Monday. saw the Pirates play even for about ten minutes. The score was tied at nine at the 12 minute media time out. Gradually the visitors began to gain separation. Size inside and a matchup problem in April Sykes were largely responsible. Rutgers led 30-20 at the break largely behind Sykes who had ten first half points to pace all scorers.
The second half saw Rutgers turn the ball over twice and have a shot clock violation in three of their first five possessions. During that time their lead actually increased by two points. Seton Hall never took advantage while the Scarlet Knights struggled during those early minutes. While Seton Hall could not find the range the early part of the second half, Rutgers again, utilized the aforementioned size and Sykes to run the lead to 19 with twelve and a half minutes to play. They were never threatened after that point. The numbers:
Pace and efficiency:
Possessions Offensive Efficiency
Rutgers 69 103
Seton Hall 67 70
Rutgers entered the game with a 92 offensive efficiency in Big East play so this was one of their better performances on the offensive end. Their defensive average was 85 and that was significantly surpassed tonight.
The Four Factors:
eFG FT RATE OREB PCT TO RATE
Rutgers 57 33 35 28
Seton Hall 38 13 23 25
Rutgers outscored the Hall 26-16 in points in the paint. The inside prowess resulted in better rebounding and more trips to the line. Once again FT rate was computed by dividing free throws made by FGA. But in raw numbers Rutgers attempted 21 free throws to 11 of the perimeter oriented Seton Hall. The eFG mark was aided by inside and outside (5 of 11 from three) play. The sore spot for coach C. Vivian Stringer was the turnovers. Rutgers committed 19 on the night which Stringer said "is just unacceptable."
As noted, Seton Hall was forced into a perimeter game most of the evening. They took 36% of their shots beyond the arc but made only 21% (4 of 19), from that range.
Anne Donovan of Seton Hall was disappointed saying, "I thought we played some really good basketball and competed the last few weeks. Tonight we took a step back."
Donovan noted that her club played well these past few weeks despite having leading scorer and rebounder Kandice Green sidelined with an ankle injury suffered February 8th at Notre Dame.
"People on the outside look at the wins and losses and do not see improvement," Donovan said. "If you are on the inside you can see the improvements that have been made internally."
"This season has been a challenge," a relieved and gratified Stringer said. "We had to beat some really good people along the way. At first this team had to learn how to win but now we have come to expect better of ourselves." A lot of coaches do not care for the Big East double bye system. In this case Stringer loves it given a rather small, in numbers, rotation. "The double bye will give us a chance to rest then when it's time to play we will go all out."
Rutgers is 18-11 overall and finishes 11-5 in the Big East. Seton Hall fell to 8-21 (1-15). Sykes led all scorers with 25 points while Chelsea Lee, Rutgers 6-2 forward, added 16 points 7 boards for Rutgers. Jasmine Crew paced Seton Hall with 18 points.
Listed as a swingman, Sykes, a 6 foot senior proved to be a defensive problem for the Hall. She shot 11 of 17 from the floor including 3 of 7 beyond the arc.
"She (Sykes) was a tough matchup," Donovan said. "We have small guards which make it tough to defend. Sykes has great versatility whether you are in a man or zone. She shot over whatever defense we were in. I like our guards but we are recruiting some size at that position. That is one of our priorities."