By Steve Tichenor
Rutgers was up by 9 with just over 3 minutes left to the 15th ranked team in the country at Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon. It was BIG 10 Super Saturday and Rutgers showed up, playing with passion and purpose.
Thirty seven minutes in, they were well on their way to a signature win for this program. Knocking off a BIG 10 powerhouse on a BIG stage. Everything was BIG. And it all crumbled in those final three minutes. Down the stretch Rutgers was done in by what has plagued them all season, sloppy play, turnovers and missed free throws. Rutgers Defense, for the most part, put out a great effort. Though in the second half, they allowed Ethan Happ, a good player, to become the second coming of Kevin McHale. Happ single handedly tied the score in regulation and that was it. Rutgers was spent and overtime was a formality. The Badgers pulled out a win on an afternoon where they were mostly stymied by a strong Rutgers defense.
And here we go. The loyal Rutgers fan will say… they’re getting close, they look like a Big 10 team, they took the 15th ranked team in the country to the final minute. All true, but I’m done with trying to claim a moral victory on effort alone. The time has come where just playing tough and keeping games close is not good enough. If you are up 9 with 3 minutes to play, you close out that game, end of story. And let’s be clear, Rutgers imploded. They let a beaten team get up from the mat.
We all know RU’s futility since joining the Big 10. No need to go into detail, the record is not good. Thanks to Coach Pikiell, they are figuring out a way to play with the big boys. They are competitive. The by product for now, are tight games and some tough losses. Saturday’s loss was excruciating. A badly needed win. A win that would have had huge significance for the program, snatched away in minutes. Ouch! But, I’ll take that over getting blown out any day. Last year they wouldn’t even be in this game. Though RU has stepped up, it has not reflected in the conference standings (1-8). I’m all for looking at the glass as half full, but let’s not lose sight that the bottom line is the W. I suppose that’s the next step.